Theatre News

Watching theatre increases empathy and makes audiences more charitable, study finds

Researchers from three Universities conducted the polling

A venue with spectators
A venue with spectators

A study released in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology and co-created by researchers at the Universities of Cambridge, Southern California and Stanford has shown that attending live theatre "improves empathy, changes attitudes, and leads to pro-social behaviour."

According to the study and based on a survey of 1622 individuals, audiences were much more benevolent after their experiences at live events.

Participants went to see three plays – Dominique Morisseau's Skeleton Crew, Hansol Jung's Wolf Play and Lynn Nottage's Sweat – and were polled both pre- and post-show. The results showed that audiences were both more empathetic and more willing to donate to charities related to the themes of the play.

Furthermore, the study claimed that watching the shows "also led participants to donate more to charities unrelated to the shows, suggesting that theatre's effects on pro-sociality generalize to different contexts".

The researchers went on to add: "By demonstrating that consuming theatre enhances empathy, our findings connect past literature demonstrating that consuming fiction and acting improve empathy. They suggest a broad role of the narrative arts in influencing empathy above and beyond processes specific to one modality, with narrative transportation serving as a common mechanism. Finally, these findings offer meaningful real-world implications, given the millions of people who view theatre each year."

Those writing made some admissions, saying: "the audience members who choose to attend theatre may be more open to attitude change. We also found that audience members tended to be older, more liberal, and have relatively high levels of income and education."

Nevertheless, they concluded that there could be some significant impacts if the arts were seen as a direct means of education: "Providing more opportunities to access theatre and the arts can even be seen as a scalable empathy intervention." Empathy interventions don't seem to be too bad an idea right now!