Exposure to live theater enhances tolerance, empathy, ability to read emotions, and literacy knowledge, according to a new study in Education Next.
Researchers from the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform examined the effect of attending high-quality theater productions on students.
Using a randomized field trial, researchers offered groups of students from grades seven through twelve free tickets to performances of A Christmas Story or Hamlet. The 670 students were divided into 24 groups based on similarity in grade level, type of class, and demographics. A lottery determined which groups attended the play and which served as control groups, which did not attend a play. A survey six weeks later collected information about students' comprehension of the work, tolerance level, and emotional intelligence.
Students who saw the plays in live theatre had a much better grasp of both their plots and vocabulary:
- Of those who saw A Christmas Carol live, 93% knew that "humbug" meant "nonsense or a trick," versus 62% of the control group.
- Over 94% of those who attended Hamlet knew Ophelia drowns, compared with 62% of the control group.
Additionally, the live performance attendees scored higher on tolerance measures and the youth version of the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test
, which measures ability to recognize others' emotions:
- Students who attended A Christmas Carol correctly identified emotions 73.4% of the time, compared to the control group's 71% rate—nearly a quarter of a standard deviation.
- Only 20% of the theatre attendees agreed that "people who disagree with my point of view bother me", compared to 30% of the control group.
"Seeing live theater produced positive effects that reading a play or watching a movie of the play does not produce," says Jay Greene, one of the study's authors, adding, "the story can be conveyed in a movie, but it doesn't engage the viewer in the same way" (THV11 CBS, 10/15; Greene et al., Education Next, Winter 2015).
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