Actors are generally viewed as creative and flamboyant individuals. They tend to be able to easily shift from traditional ideals to nontraditional roles and can exhibit emotional extremes in order to fulfill the personality requirements of the character they are portraying. Many actors enter the arts because they have always possessed these unique behaviors. Others develop them over years of training and practice. Regardless of whether these attributes are inherent or acquired, they are traits that involve significant psychological shifting. Audiences celebrate actors with a wide range of emotional skills and benefit from their expertise. But it has often been theorized that these actors may pay a price for providing such entertainment.
Shifting from reality to fantasy is one attribute that can seem flawless when performed by skilled actors. But do these individuals ever blur the lines? Paula Thomson of the Department of Kinesiology at California State University recently led a study that compared the emotional processes of actors to those of nonactors. In her study, Thomson evaluated the emotional regulation, trauma resolution, mourning, and attachment behaviors of the participants using the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) and self-generated reports. She found that there were significant differences between the emotional stability of the groups.
In particular, Thomson discovered that the actors exhibited engagement processes when interviewed about traumatic life events. In contrast, the control group exhibited dismissing and avoiding behaviors, which suggests insecure attachment patterns. However, when both groups reviewed the traumas, the actors were more disorganized and disoriented than the nonactors. Additionally, the actors tended to refer to deceased abusive figures as still being alive. This finding could suggest that actors who take on traumatic roles could recall their own traumatic events and be more vulnerable to posttraumatic stress. Even though the actors displayed high levels of secure-autonomy, nearly half of them responded in ways that warranted further testing for dissociation, compared to less than 3% of the nonactors. Thomson added, “Our study adds to the body of research that suggests that there is a psychological cost for participants engaged in the creative arts.”
Thomson, P., Jaque, S. V. (2012). Holding a mirror up to nature: Psychological vulnerability in actors. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028911
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