Role-Playing Helps Adolescent Emotional Learning
From the Situationist:
It’s standard advice: if you want to be something, act like you already are. Smile if you are sad, and you just might turn that frown upside down (for real). Act like you have confidence, and you will have confidence. Fake it ’til you make it. The message is explicit and implicit in drama. Ben Affleck in Boiler Room tells his sales staff to “act as if.” Even Shakespeare had Hamlet’s act of craziness draw him deeper into insanity. And actors the world over, become their characters, at least for a while.
Of course, a basic lesson of social psychology and related fields is that we all occupy role schemas (doctor, customer, flight attendant, officer, and so on), have person schemas for those we know, and create self-schemas or narratives for ourselves to help make sense of who we are. Role-playing is everywhere, though typically it is only implicit.
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign researchers Reed Larson and Jane Brown recently followed a group of high school students in a situation with many new roles to play: a theater program. They found that not only did the experience force the students to deal with complex emotions, but discussing them with others helped them to develop emotionally. ScienceDaily carries the report.