Who’s Depression Is It Anyway? Study Shows Improv Is Good for Mental Health

No sad clowns here
Who’s Depression Is It Anyway? Study Shows Improv Is Good for Mental Health

If that friend who keeps inviting you to their improv shows seems more self-assured than they should be, a new study offers a “yes, and…” to that observation. Yes, that pal is probably pretty happy with themselves, and it might be because they have superior mental health.

Since a low tolerance for uncertainty has been linked with both depression and anxiety, researchers wanted to examine how a high tolerance for it might help our mental health. They also suspected that improv, a form of theatrical performance that is often funny and always unplanned, could be a good way to develop such a backbone.

After completing surveys about their individual experience with social anxiety, confidence in their social abilities and tolerance for uncertainty, 339 students ages 8 to 12 started a 10-week long improv program. When they were asked about the same things after the program ended, the results revealed that students experienced less social anxiety and increased tolerance for uncertainty. 

“Engaging repeatedly in the unknown in this fun and playful way would teach people that there’s something nice to be discovered in the unknown,” study author Peter Felsman, who conducted the research as part of a three-part dissertation for his PhD, told The Michigan Daily. “It’s not always a terrifying thing.”

It makes some sense. Improvisers frequently ask audiences for suggestions to play off of, and by doing so, they may be less affected when it comes to other types of feedback in life — and more capable of adapting and accepting what they cannot control. 

So the next time you want to tease your thirty-something friend for taking improv classes, that might just be your own anxiety talking — an anxious feeling that improv can zip, zap, zop right out of you.

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