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In an exploratory, qualitative study, 11 professional actors were interviewed about their childhoods to investigate the early predictors of acting talent. To control for verbal talent, scientists-turned-lawyers were selected as a comparison group. Participants were asked about their families, schooling, and training, as well as about their early propensities for play and imagination, their orientation towards fiction, and their emotionality and attunement to others' mental states. Actors' childhood memories differed from those of the lawyers in the following respects. The actors recalled greater engagement in alternative worlds (imaginary and fictional worlds) and in inner worlds (emotional and other mental states). Not surprisingly, then, they were also more likely to recall feeling different from others and unable to engage fully in school. Unlike the lawyers, the actors recalled practicing for their adult roles as early as age 4—by inventing and directing plays in their backyards. Unlike lawyers, actors chose their careers despite parental discouragement: although their parents valued the arts, they discouraged the choice of acting as a career. Taken together, the results suggest that an early interest in alternative and inner worlds and an identification of oneself as different from others are predictive of early and steady involvement in theater—a choice of career in which one can live daily in another world of imagined lives and in the other world of others' mental lives.
Living in Alternative and Inner Worlds: Early Signs
of Acting Talent
Thalia R. Goldstein
Boston College
Ellen Winner
Boston College and Harvard Project Zero
In an exploratory, qualitative study, 11 professional actors were interviewed about their
childhoods to investigate the early predictors of acting talent. To control for verbal
talent, scientists-turned-lawyers were selected as a comparison group. Participants were
asked about their families, schooling, and training, as well as about their early propen-
sities for play and imagination, their orientation towards fiction, and their emotionality
and attunement to others’ mental states. Actors’ childhood memories differed from
those of the lawyers in the following respects. The actors recalled greater engagement
in alternative worlds (imaginary and fictional worlds) and in inner worlds (emotional
and other mental states). Not surprisingly, then, they were also more likely to recall feel-
ing different from others and unable to engage fully in school. Unlike the lawyers, the
actors recalled practicing for their adult roles as early as age 4—by inventing and direct-
ing plays in their backyards. Unlike lawyers, actors chose their careers despite parental
discouragement: although their parents valued the arts, they discouraged the choice of
acting as a career. Taken together, the results suggest that an early interest in alternative
and inner worlds and an identification of oneself as different from others are predictive
of early and steady involvement in theater—a choice of career in which one can live
daily in another world of imagined lives and in the other world of others’ mental lives.
What propels certain individuals to devote their
careers to acting as if they are someone else, stepping
into another’s shoes, speaking with another’s voice,
and trying to create the illusion that they are that other
person? What propels someone to choose to become a
professional actor? In Elizabethan times, actors were
seen as beggars, thieves, and otherwise untrustworthy
or immoral (Brown, 1995). Actors have been labeled
exhibitionistic, impulsive, hysterical, poorly integrated,
narcissistic, and neurotic (Fisher & Fisher, 1981; Ham-
mond & Edelmann, 1991). Very little is known about
the childhood roots of acting talent, and this stands in
contrast to what is known about the developmental pre-
cursors of participation in music (e.g., Bazzana, 2007),
visual art (e.g., Milbrath, 1998), athletics (e.g., Bloom,
1985), and academic pursuits such as mathematics and
science (e.g., Bloom, 1985; Csikzentmihalyi, Rathunde,
& Whalen, 1993; Root-Bernstein, Bernstein, & Garnier,
This research was performed while Thalia R. Goldstein was on
appointment as a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Fel-
low under the DHS Scholarship and Fellowship Program, a program
administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education
(ORISE) for DHS though an interagency agreement with the U.S.
Department of Education (DOE). ORISE is managed by Oak Ridge
Associated Universities under DOE contract number DE-AC05-
00OR22750. All opinions expressed in this article are the authors’
and do not necessarily reflect the policies and views of DHS, DOE,
We thank Jonathan Levy, Chilton Ryan, and the members of the
Actors Workshop who participated as well as Robert Orchard and
the members of A.R.T. who participated. Nick Ackerman, Stephanie
Hackett, Kaitilin Mahoney, Nicole Porter, and Chris Russell helped
with data collection and coding. We also thank Mark Runco and
anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. Portions of this arti-
cle were presented as a poster at the Association for Psychological
Science conference, May 2007.
Correspondence should be sent to Thalia R. Goldstein, Boston
College, Department of Psychology, McGuinn 301, 140 Common-
wealth Ave, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467. E-mail:
Copyright #Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1040-0419 print=1532-6934 online
DOI: 10.1080/10400410802633749
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1995; Winner, 1996). Here we take the first step in the
study of the development of acting ability by investigat-
ing, retrospectively, the childhood correlates of acting
talent, comparing a group of professional actors to a
group of scholastically gifted individuals who first
became research scientists or engineers and then turned
to a career in patent law. This group was selected as a
comparison group because, like the profession of acting,
the profession of law calls for strong verbal skills. Thus,
both groups should be highly verbally intelligent, yet
unlike actors, lawyers do not create alternate selves
and do not inhabit fictional worlds.
Theories of acting specify what kinds of skills the actor
must develop (Chekhov, 1991; Hagen & Frankel, 1973;
Hull, 1985; Mamet, 1997; Meisner & Longwell, 1987;
Stanislavsky, 1950), and these theories (along with what
is known about development in other art forms) were
used to generate hypotheses about the cognitive,
emotional, and social skills that should predict emerging
acting talent. In addition, biographies and autobiogra-
phies of actors were scrutinized to check that our hypoth-
eses were born out in the lives of well-known actors.
There are two major Western theories of acting—
Method and Technique. Method theory, which is
broadly defined as working from inner emotions to
outer states, is the main approach to acting taught in
the United States (Verducci, 2000); Technique theory,
which is broadly defined as working from the outside
physicality of the character to the inner emotions, is
the main approach to acting taught in England. Method
theory stresses the importance of actors’ sensitivity to
emotion and to others’ mental states (Hull, 1985;
Stanislavsky, 1950). Method actors learn to feel the
emotions of their characters, to study emotions and link
the emotions of their characters back to their own
experiences and emotions. A character comes to life
through the actor’s understanding and creation of the
character’s inner life. The actor thus must have a well-
developed ability to imagine others’ mental states—an
ability that psychologists refer to as having a ‘‘theory
of mind.’’ The actor must, throughout the play, learn
and use the understanding of the character’s inner moti-
vations (Noice & Noice, 2006). The only way to avoid a
´d performance is by understanding the intricacies
of the character’s underlying psychology (Chekov,
1991), and conveying those emotions and motivations
onstage, while speaking the words of the script.
A study by Nemiro (1997) revealed the central role for
actors of understanding their own and others’ mental
states. Nemiro found that actors create their characters
by making connections between their own lives and
those of their characters. The actors in this study also
thought about their character’s needs and objectives,
and determined what other characters in the play would
think about their character. This study demonstrates the
extent to which actors must focus on understanding their
own and others’ emotions, desires, and goals, and also
the extent to which actors practice living in other worlds.
Actors must not only have a well-developed ability
to enter into and understand the inner world of others.
They must also have a powerful imagination, because
the people whose minds they inhabit exist only fiction-
ally. And, of course, actors must have a strong verbal
memory because they must commit hours of lines to
memory, and must be able to imitate other’s gestures
and intonations as they create particular characters.
In the present study, we explored whether actors
recalled showing signs of these kinds of abilities and
proclivities as young children, and we also queried
them about the role of family and school in their early
We explored the childhood correlates of acting talent
using a retrospective interview method, asking profes-
sional actors to reflect about their childhoods. The inter-
view protocol we developed was based on the kinds of
questions posed by Bloom (1985) in his retrospective
study of the childhoods of talented adults in a variety
of domains. Our questions probed the following: an
inward focus on the mental life of self and other, imagi-
nation, involvement in the alternative realms of play and
fiction, social skills, cognitive skills, mimicry, experience
of school, early engagement in creating theater, and the
role of parents.
Eleven professional actors who had been members of the
professional actors union, Actor’s Equity, for at least 10
years, and who had acted on Broadway, off-Broadway,
and regional stages, agreed to an in depth interview. Ages
ranged widely, from 42–85. Ten scientist-turned-lawyers
(referred to hereafter simply aslawyers)formedthecompar-
ison group. These lawyers were thought to form an ideal
comparison group because they, too, had chosen a highly
verbal profession. Although lawyers must, like actors, have
strong verbal skills, there are no other obvious similarities
between lawyers and actors (especially given that the lawyers
studied here were not litigators and, therefore, did not ‘‘per-
form’’ in court). We expected the lawyers to look similar to
scholastically gifted individuals studied by Bloom and his
colleagues (Gustin, 1985; Sosniak, 1985). Any differences
between the actors and lawyers would not, however, be
attributable to differences in verbal abilities.
We interviewed participants either in person or via
e-mail. There were no differences in the quality of the
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interviews conducted via e-mail or in person: both
methods yielded detailed answers to all of the questions
we posted. In both kinds of interviews, we followed up
on specific questions, as needed.
Inner Worlds: Emotions and Other Mental States
All good actors must discover the psychological reasons
for why characters do and say what they do (Caruso &
Kosoff, 1998). Actors must continually analyze the
characters they portray, asking themselves ‘‘Who is this
character? Why is he doing what he does?’’ (Hagen &
Frankel, 1973). Actors must ask themselves ‘‘What
would motivate me to behave as the character is behav-
ing?’’ (Hagen & Frankel, 1973, p. 161). Method actors,
in particular, are taught to actually feel the emotions
that their characters are portraying. Understanding the
character’s mental states is extremely important, but
according to the Method approach, understanding
without empathy—without concurrently feeling the
emotions of the character—will result in detachment—
the characterization will not feel alive (Hayman, 1969).
Living, existing, and feeling with a character is how true
and powerful characterizations are built (Stanislavsky,
1950). The core principle of the American Method
approach to acting training that one must be attuned
to characters’ emotions and develop empathy for them
(Hull, 1985).
This core principle resonates in the published self-
reports of actors. For example, Marlon Brando
(1994) reported ‘‘I am endlessly absorbed by human
motivations. How is it that we behave the way we
do?’’ (p. 83). Ingrid Bergman felt sorry for the maids
who worked for her aunts, would imagine what went
on in the minds of various salesgirls and others that
her aunts interacted with, and felt sympathy for others
who were mistreated by her aunts (Bergman &
Burgess, 1980). Like Bergman, and in contrast to the
lawyers, it was hypothesized that actors would recall
having been keenly aware of others’ mental states, as
well as aware and sensitive of their own emotional
reactions to events.
To probe whether actors were strongly drawn inner
mental worlds as children, we asked the following
questions: (a) ‘‘Were you especially attuned to others’
emotions=motivations?’’ and (b) ‘‘Were you considered
highly sensitive?’’
Inner World Results
Consistent with prediction, actors recalled attunement
to others’ mental states and emotions (8); but contrary
to prediction, so also did the lawyers (6). Two actors
reported that this attunement happened on two levels at
once, one an immediate level, and one a distanced, meta-
level. One of these actors described the following
experience: ‘‘I’m having a discussion with someone and
they’re really having an emotional kind of experience
and I’m listening and I’m being empathetic, but at the back
of my mind I’m like, ‘My God, that’s so interesting.’’’
In addition to this interest in others’ emotions, actors
also reported a high level of appreciation for their own
emotions, labeling themselvesas‘sensitive’aschildren
(9). In comparison, only four lawyers reported being emo-
tionally sensitive as children. One actor reported testing
himself to see how much emotion he could handle,
When I used to go to a movie, ...some sort of ...Walt
Disney flick, if there was a frightening scene in it, I used
to come back and go to my room and turn the lights
out ...and test myself to see if I had been frightened or not.
Another actor recalled his ‘‘two brothers who thought I
was too ‘sensitive.’’’ Another actor described how, as a
child, he was ‘‘always extremely affected by the energy
in a room, and quite quiet, interestingly enough, as I
soaked it all in.’’
Imaginary Worlds
Actors must be able to create a complete imaginary world
from an incomplete sound stage or set, and must be able
to imagine themselves as someone else (Hull, 1985) in the
middle of a state of affairs that they may have never
experienced (Chekhov, 1991). This involves fantasy, play,
and pretense (Meisner & Longwell, 1987). Every move-
ment on stage and every moment between characters is
the result of imagination. The acting theorist Stanislavsky
believed that only through the submersion into the ima-
ginary world of the play can an actor create a realistic
character. The imagination must be developed if the actor
is to be successful. Creative fantasy and immersion into
the world of the play allows the actor to interact with that
world believably. And having a strong emotional imagi-
nation allows the actor to recreate the proper emotions
onstage (Chekhov, 1991; Stanislavsky, 1950).
Two questions probed whether actors were drawn to
creating imaginary worlds as children: (a) ‘‘Did you
have an imaginary playmate?’’ and (b) ‘‘Did you day-
dream a lot?’’ We expected that the actors would be
more likely than the lawyers to recall having created
imaginary companions (Taylor, 1999) and to recall a
great deal of daydreaming.
Imaginary World Results
Contrary to prediction, actors were no more likely than
lawyers to recall having had an imaginary companion
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(only one lawyer and one actor had such a companion).
However, as predicted, most actors reported daydream-
ing as children, but so also did the lawyers: Eight actors
reported daydreaming often, compared to six lawyers.
One actor answered ‘‘Yes! Still do.’’ Another actor
reported long-term ‘‘waking fantasies,’’ which, although
not real, went on for a long time and affected the actor’s
behavior. Although actors recalled daydreaming, this
memory did not sharply distinguish them from the
lawyers, who also daydreamed as children. However,
because our lawyers were also scientists, it is possible
that their high level of imagination was linked to
their ability to work successfully in the sciences, as
Root-Bernstein et al. (1995) showed in their longitudinal
study of scientists.
Attraction to Fiction
In order to probe whether actors were strongly drawn
to other-created alternative and fictional worlds as
children, we asked them: (a) ‘‘Did you like to watch
movies?’’ and (b) ‘‘Did you like to read? Fiction?
Nonfiction?’’ It was hypothesized that the actors, but
not the lawyers, would recall having been drawn to
the world of fiction, preferring novels and films over
nonfiction and documentary film.
Attraction to Fiction Results
As predicted, there was a striking difference between
actors and lawyers in their recollections about their rela-
tionship to literary fiction. Ten actors reported reading
and enjoying fiction as children, compared to only three
lawyers. One actor recalled, ‘‘I read a lot and I could do
a little poetry. And then I got hooked on Shakespeare.’’
Another actor reported that ‘‘I read plays, mostly.’’ In
contrast, lawyers reported that they preferred nonfic-
tion. ‘‘Almost never did I read fiction, except when
required for school,’’ one lawyer told us. Another lawyer
answered that he liked ‘‘to read, but did not do it much
while growing up.’’ Instead, he said, he concentrated on
sports. However, when the medium was film, lawyers
were as drawn to fictional worlds as were actors: nine
actors and eight lawyers recalled often watching movies.
Social Skills
We examined actors’ social lives as children, asking
whether they were introverted and alienated. Given that
acting is an inherently social activity in which one must
be able to collaborate with others, one might predict
that, as children, actors would be extroverted (rather
than shy or introverted) and have many friends, in con-
trast to lawyers. However, some work has shown that
introversion is related to creativity across the lifespan
(Feist & Barron, 2003); hence, one might also expect
actors to be introverted. We favored the hypothesis of
actors as introverts: because actors are drawn to imagin-
ary and pretend worlds, we expected that they would
recall living inside their imaginations as children—social
introverts rather than extroverts. If actors are intro-
verted as children, they should also recall having felt
alienated from those around them, in comparison to
To probe for social skills as children, participants
were asked the following four questions: (a) ‘‘Were
you extroverted? Introverted?’’ (b) ‘‘Did you have many
friends, or few?’’ (c) ‘‘Were you lonely or not?’’ (d) ‘‘Did
you feel different from other kids? If so, how?’’
Social Skills Results
Slightly less than half of the actors (4) recalled being
introverted, as did half (5) of the lawyers. One actor
reported that she ‘‘had long periods of quiet. ...I was
an extremely sensitive child and always very afraid to
make waves.’’ Two of the introverted actors reported
that, although they were very shy or very introverted in
their everyday lives, becoming involved in acting and
being onstage allowed them to become more extroverted.
Although recollections of introversion did not differ-
entiate actors from lawyers, almost every actor (10)
reported feeling ‘‘different’’ from his or her peers, yet
fewer (6) lawyers reported feeling this way. One actor
reported that this difference came from being ‘‘fasci-
nated especially by grownups. I would always hang
out in rooms with grownups and not with kids.’’
Another actor described himself as ‘‘Always more
cerebral. Lived in my head a lot. Didn’t care about any-
thing with the suffix of ball—baseball, etc.—unless it
was Cinderella’s Ball.’’ Another actor recalled, ‘‘No
one really understood my passion for theater, so it was
hard to relate.’’
The question actors are most often asked is ‘‘How do
you remember all of those lines?’’ (Noice & Noice,
2002). Spencer Tracy was reported to have had an
extraordinary ability for memorizing printed material
(Swindell, 1969), and Marlon Brando (1994) wrote of
his mother’s songs, ‘‘I memorized as many as I could.
To this day, I remember the music and lyrics to
thousands of songs my mother taught me’’ (p. 10).
A series of studies by Noice and Noice (2006) has
revealed the excellent memories that actors have, and
their abilities to memorize high amounts of material.
The careful and extensive elaboration of a script,
perspective taking, and self referencing that occur
as the actor develops a character are all strategies
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that help with memorization (Noice & Noice, 2006).
Acting requires a strong long term verbal memory, as
actors must memorize long scripts and individual
monologues. However, actors more often report that
memorization occurs by ‘‘magic,’’ rather than by any
concerted effort (Noice & Noice, 1997).
We probed actors for their recollections of an ability
and delight in memorization of verbal texts. We
expected that actors would recall an early tendency to
memorize lines from books and movies. In order to gain
information on verbal skills and memorization of works
in childhood, we asked the following questions: (a) ‘‘Did
you have a good memory for words and books?’’ and (b)
‘‘Did you memorize scripts or lyrics for fun?’’
Memory Results
Actors were more likely than lawyers to recall having a
good memory for books and words (9 actors vs. 2 law-
yers), and to recall memorizing books, poems, and plays
for fun in their spare time (7 actors vs. 1 lawyer). Actors
reported ‘‘it always came easily’’ and ‘‘Absolutely—
I know all the lyrics for any song I’ve heard just
twice ...and as for scripts ...I can look at the page
and see the words in my head, a lot of the time. Words
are my greatest fascination.’’
Actors, of course, are far more than mimics, but the
ability to imitate others’ gestures and intonations is an
important skill for an actor to have. Imitation is often
used in children’s theatre classes (Siegler, DeLoach, &
Eisenberg, 2006) as a way for children to understand
the characters they are portraying. We predicted that
child actors would show an early talent for mimicry,
as this might be one way in which they could interact
with others. We asked: (a) ‘‘Were you a mimic (imitating
other’s behavior, speech, etc.)?’’
Mimicry Results
Actors were more likely than lawyers to report mimicry
as children (6 actors vs. 3 lawyers). One actor reported
mimicking ‘‘mannerisms and speech,’’ and another
reported, ‘‘I was always able to pick up on the way peo-
ple spoke and acted and stuff like that, but then I think,
eventually, it became more interesting to me of what it
said about the person.’’ For this actor, mimicking others
led to an understanding of others.
Experience of School
Because actors live in imaginary worlds, they are unli-
kely to like the fact-based reality world of the traditional
academic classroom. Jack Nicholson constantly pulled
pranks on classmates during and after class. He brought
in his football and threw it around class when the
teacher wrote something on the board (McGuilligan,
1994). Spencer Tracy was reported to have hated school
and to think often of running away (Swindell, 1969).
We hypothesized that our actors would recall a dis-
like of school, and that they may have acted out by
becoming the class clown. We predicted that our lawyers
would recall having liked school. Research on other
kinds of academically gifted individuals shows that they
recall that school success came easily and quickly them
(Gustin, 1985; Sosniak, 1985) To probe whether actors
felt unengaged in the academic classroom, we asked:
(a) ‘‘Were you easily bored in school?’’ and (b) ‘‘Were
you the class clown?’’
Experience of School Results
Five actors, but only two lawyers, reported boredom in
school. Of the five actors who reported being interested
in school, one was interested only when ‘‘teachers ...
really captivated me, because they were funny or
they were theatrical.’’ Even though one would think
that boredom would lead to misbehavior, or that actors
would want to show off for classmates, only one
actor reported being a ‘‘class clown.’’ In comparison, three
of our lawyers reported being the class clown, disrupting
their classrooms with antics. Clearly, being the class clown
does not distinguish future actors from future lawyers.
Creating Theater
Signs of acting interest should emerge early, as do signs
of interest in music or drawing (Winner, 1996). Because
acting experiences are often not available during school,
but are easily created at home, we expected that actors
would recall making theatre for themselves as children.
Katharine Hepburn, Lawrence Olivier, Ingrid Bergman,
Spencer Tracy, Jack Nicholson, and Marlon Brando
all began creating their own performances very early.
Hepburn (1991) wrote
I also had a little theatre, which I had made out of a
wooden box. .. .I’d make up the stories. I also had a
curtain, which I could open and close. I would give
shows to my brothers Dick and Bob. They seemed to
like it. (p. 50)
Bergman reported ‘‘I used to dress up ...and my
father helped me to put funny hats on, a pipe in my
mouth, glasses, that sort of thing’’ (Bergman & Burgess,
1980, p. 17). She would then create original plays for
the amusement of her father. Spencer Tracy ‘‘liked
to put on penny-admission plays in the basement’’
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(Swindell, 1969, p. 7), and Jack Nicholson recalled
watching Westerns at the movies, and then acting
out the gun fights with his friends in the woods
(McGuilligan, 1994).
To discover the amount of theater our actors had
created for themselves as children, as well as how
early interest in theatre emerged, we asked the following
questions: (a) ‘‘When did you first start acting?’’ (b)
‘‘Did you role play and pretend play a lot?’’ (c) ‘‘Did
you like to dress up in costumes?’’ (d) ‘‘Were you asked
to perform for parents=friend, or did you do this spon-
taneously, or not at all? If so, did you enjoy having an
audience?’’ and (e) ‘‘Did you make up your own songs?
Plays? Stories? Puppet shows?’’
Creating Theater Results
Before they were in formal acting lessons, the actors
showed an early inclination for performance and
pretend play. Although almost all typically developing
children engage in pretend play (Harris, 2000), the
actors took this play one step further. Eight actors
report engaging in a lot of pretend and role play as
children, compared to six lawyers. One actor reports
‘‘acting out every part in the musical comedy albums
my parents had in our living room.’’ Another actor
remembered she ‘‘loved the mirror. I would act in front
of it, dance, etc. I would put two mirrors together and
pretend I was the Rockettes.’’
Seven actors reported that their pretend play often
involved an element of costumes and dress up, but only
one lawyer reports the same. One actor reported that
I would put on all of [her Grandmother’s] costume jew-
elry and tie a blanket around my neck (age 4 or 5) and
parade down her long halls, my younger brother duti-
fully holding my train ...and then I would sit my
royal-ness down in the throne and my little brother
would interview me with a tape recorder, as the queen.
The same actor reports that dressing up in costume is
‘‘still the best part!’’
In addition to what one might consider typical child-
hood pretend and role playing, nine of the actors report
spontaneous performances put on for their families,
with only three lawyers reporting the same. These were
well thought out, elaborate affairs. One actor reports
‘‘When I was five ...I used to produce shows in my
backyard and in the neighborhood.’’ Another reports
‘‘[I] acted [movies] out for my parents, with my
brother.’’ In addition, nine actors report being asked
to perform by their parents, but only four lawyers report
the same. Of those lawyers who were asked to perform,
one recalls ‘‘not liking it at all.’’ Both within and outside
of the context of performing, nine actors report creating
their own songs, plays, stories, and puppet shows for
themselves, with four lawyers reporting the same.
Parental Opposition
Parents do not encourage acting as a career choice,
given there is no money or stability in it for the majority
of professional actors (Kogan & Kangas, 2006). It is
estimated that less than 1% of trained actors are making
their full time living in acting at any one point in time
(Noice & Noice, 1997). It is thus understandable that
families do not encourage their children to go into act-
ing. Reports from the biographies of actors suggest that
actors must often go against their parents’ will to
become actors. Jack Nicholson and Spencer Tracy both
report discouragement from their families when they
decided to become actors (McGuilligan, 1994; Swindell,
1969). Katharine Hepburn’s father needed convincing at
first, as he ‘‘had been disgusted and heartsick over the
fact that I wanted to act’’ (Hepburn, 1991, p. 81). How-
ever, interest in the arts comes from somewhere, so we
expected that our actor group would have had parental
interest in the arts, even though the parents may not
have supported going into the arts as a career.
In contrast, we expected our academically talented
group to be encouraged to follow their chosen academic
path. Both mathematicians and neuroscientists studied
by Bloom (1985) and his colleagues reported growing
up in households with warm, loving, and conscientious
parents, who encouraged them to follow their interests
and work hard in school (Gustin, 1985); research
neurologists recalled parents who were encouraging
about their work and who helped them develop a strong
work ethic (Sosniak, 1985). In order to probe parental
encouragement or discouragement, as well as familial
involvement with the arts, we asked the following ques-
tions: (a) ‘‘Did your parents encourage you to pursue
acting professionally?’’ (b) ‘‘Did anyone discourage
you?’’ and (c) ‘‘How much of a priority were the arts
in your household?’’
Parental Opposition Results
Seven actors reported that the arts held a ‘‘large or
somewhat large’’ importance in their household, yet
only one lawyer reported the same. However, although
the arts may have held a large importance, only two
actors reported encouragement from their parents in
pursuing their acting career, and six reported active dis-
couragement from pursuing acting as a career. For law-
yers, although four were actively encouraged to go into
the law and three were discouraged, all of the lawyers
were encouraged to follow their own academic and
career path, and were allowed to make whatever
academic choices they wished to make.
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In many ways, future actors present a very different
profile from that of future academic stars who become
scientists or lawyers. Perhaps the two most distinctive
features of the profile of future actors is their attraction
to fiction and the world of imagination and their emo-
tionality. These proclivities are clearly related to the
skills required to act—one must be able to enter readily
into pretend worlds, and one must be able to feel emo-
tions strongly. Nemiro (1997) reported the importance
of emotion understanding in her exploration of actors’
creative processes. These kinds of tendencies would
serve to set future actors apart, and thus it is not surpris-
ing that they felt alienated from others as children. Most
adults do not choose the life of an actor: it takes a very
atypical person to choose such a life, and already in
childhood these future actors felt atypical.
Cognitive skills related to acting also distinguish
actors at an early age: they show an ability to mimic
others, and an ability to memorize verbal texts, an
activity they engage in for recreation. Finally, actors
begin creating theater at a very young age. Although
their parents take pleasure in their childhood
theater antics, they actively discourage their young
adult offspring from a career of acting. Actors persevere
and choose their careers despite often strong parental
It is not surprising that the lawyers felt encouraged in
their academic pursuits, even if they were not encour-
aged specifically to be lawyers, but the actors felt
actively discouraged. Academically talented youth
report receiving encouragement from parents (Gustin,
1985). However, theatre and film are notoriously diffi-
cult to break in to and make a living. What is interesting
is that these actors persisted against this discouragement
and decided to continue on this difficult career path.
However, it should also be noted that although
families may not have encouraged their children to go
into the arts, the arts did hold a place of importance
in the household for the actors, more so than for the
lawyers. Kogan and Kangas (2006) reported that
their actors came from homes with moderate interest
in amateur arts, but that they were still discouraged
from professional arts engagement. Our results support
these findings.
Our actors and lawyers recalled very different kinds
of childhoods and kinds of families. We recognize
the limitations of the retrospective interview method.
However, such an approach is a first step towards unco-
vering the early signs of acting talent. The next step
would be to identify and follow actual child actors as
they develop.
Despite lack of parental support, our actors recalled
coping with boredom in school and coping with feeling
different from others by performing. We suggest here
that an early affinity for fictional worlds and for the
alternative world of others’ minds, combined with emo-
tionality, and the ability to imitate and to memorize,
lays the groundwork for later professional performance.
Children who go on to become actors as adults show
many of the seeds of acting ability. Perhaps the most
important of these seeds is an attraction to imaginary,
fictional worlds. This may set the stage for the later
performance of fictional worlds for the enjoyment and
edification of others.
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... Em termos científicos, são diversas as evidências que, sobretudo nas últimas duas décadas, têm vindo a mostrar o impacto positivo das actividades artísticas e teatrais no desenvolvimento psicológico e humano. Para citar apenas alguns, tais são os exemplos de trabalhos de investigação realizados no campo da Educação (e.g., Bailey, 1996;Hui & Lau, 2006, Leit & Humphries, 1999, do Desenvolvimento cognitivo (e.g., Noice & Noice, 1997, da Auto-eficácia (Burgoyne et al., 2007), da Regulação emocional (e.g., Goldstein, 2009;Goldstein & Winner, 2009;Konijn, 1995Konijn, , 1999Orzechowicz, 2008) ou da Neurologia e da Neuroestética (e.g., Calvo-Merino, Jola, Glaser, & Haggard, 2008;Cela-Conde et al., 2004;Kawabata & Zeki, 2004). Acrescem a estes um conjunto de estudos no campo da intervenção comunitária, nomeadamente nos campos do Empoderamento individual e social (e.g. ...
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O espectáculo IrROMPER é a peça central de um projecto que, além de pôr em interacção as práticas da criação artística teatral e a promoção da saúde mental, procura fomentar o diálogo em torno destes temas na sociedade civil. O texto do espectáculo, que abaixo apresentamos, resultou de um processo criativo de cariz participativo que, partindo das metodologias base do trabalho teatral e tomando inspiração nas metodologias do teatro documental e do teatro do oprimido, entre outras, fez convergir participantes do Grupo de Teatro e do grupo Vozes de Esperança-ambos da associação Encontrar+se: promoção da saúde mental-tendo em vista o desenvolvimento do seu auto-conhecimento e o seu empoderamento individual e colectivo. A este conjunto de elementos juntaram-se nove profissionais das artes do espectáculo (incluindo um actor e uma actriz) com vasta experiência em processos de criação participativos, tendo em vista a potenciação da experiência artística dos participantes para o seu grau máximo. Em termos científicos, são diversas as evidências que, sobretudo nas últimas duas décadas, têm vindo a mostrar o impacto positivo das actividades artísticas e teatrais no desenvolvimento psicológico e humano.
... Gifted actors recall being able to mimic, memorize verbal texts, and engage in creating theatre at an early age. 5 The "class clown" may be a stereotype of future actors, but most actors recall simply being bored in school. ...
... Be it as it may, we can fairly state that the global race for talent has been lifted to a higher level of acceleration. This global search for talent has intensified Article published by EDP Sciences not only in the business world, but also in the field of artistic culture where creativity rules (Goldstein & Winner, 2009;Livingstone, Lafer-Sousa, & Conway, 2011;Rostan, 2010;Sommerlund & Strandvad, 2012), in education (Matthews & McBee, 2007;Schroth & Helfer, 2009;Trustee & Niles, 2004) and in academia (Wildavsky, 2010). Even though the identification of cognitive abilities (e.g., verbal and analytical skills) has been around for many decades (Renzulli, 1978), the world of sports followed these front-runners in adopting strategies to locate the best players. ...
... (Moores et al., 2015, p. 15). Many actors express an interest in alternative realities, consider themselves to be different from normal people, and are drawn to a career in acting as an escapist means to becoming someone else (Goldstein & Winner, 2009). Additionally, some actors are vulnerable to boundary-blurring with their characters (Burgoyne, Poulin, & Rearden, 1999;Hannah, Domino, Hanson, & Hannah, 1994;Nuetzel, 2000). ...
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Actors often describe their vocation as a passion, a calling, or even a purpose. However, the very nature of a career as an actor is rife with rejection, a lack of agency, and income instability. Such strong identification with their vocation may threaten an actor’s self-concept in the face of so much adversity. Many actors become frustrated, sometimes to the point of giving up, because the gatekeepers (agents, casting directors, network executives, etc.) decide whether they get to exercise their passion or fulfill their purpose by actually working in their chosen profession. While the body of research on resilience is robust, there have been virtually no studies on the application of resilience training to this particular ‘at risk’ population. Based on the theory, research, and practice of positive psychology, this paper proposes a resilience model for actors incorporating 1) a resilience mindset and toolkit, 2) self-compassion, 3) community, and 4) using one’s talent in service to others. It is hypothesized that this combination will enhance resilience, build a strong community, bolster actors’ well-being, and provide a volitional pathway to exercise one’s passion and purpose without sacrificing vulnerability. is is the foundation of The Resilience Compass.
In response to the question of how actors can perform truthfully in imaginary settings, the present study focuses on the characteristics of changes in actors in a role through an acting training process, which emphasizes paying attention to a partner and communicating. The characteristics of changes in actors are captured by the pattern of utterances during the training. Statistical analyses are conducted on temporal changes, individual differences, and the granularity of utterances. The influence on utterances of attention to partners is discussed, which reflects an integrated perspective from which to view creative action, as is referred to in the five A's framework. In addition, by explaining the interrelation of words and context in acting through the theory of constructed emotion, the results provide a demonstration of how real emotion may be born in acting.
Drama studies can provide adolescents and young adults with learning opportunities that can help them to develop creative and socio-emotional skills. In interviews and discussion groups, when given the opportunity to talk about their experiences, young drama students explain the creative and emotional benefits they feel they have received from their participation in the arts. This research study investigates whether engagement, and particularly engagement over time, in drama is significant in stimulating creative and socio-emotionally intelligent behaviour in young people. It compares the creative and socio-emotional levels of adolescents and young adults who participate in drama studies routinely, to both those who have participated for two years or less and those who have no experience in this field. The research sample comprised 222 young people between the ages of 13 and 21. Findings analysed for this sample suggest that, those who have taken part in drama studies for two years or more develop higher levels of fluency, flexibility, originality and self-perceived creativity than those whose participation is less or nil. No significant differences in socio-emotional skills were noted in relation to different degrees of participation. The results are discussed in relation to the benefits that participation in drama activities can have for the development of skills during a key stage of life for young adults, replete with challenges.
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Given how central emotions are to the field of acting, surprisingly little research has examined how actors' emotional tendencies and skills vary from other individuals. In a sample of 284 college students, we investigated how theater majors differed from other students who have limited or no experience with acting. We expected that theater majors would be more temperamentally emotional, have more positive attitudes about emotions, have better awareness and understanding of their own emotions, and be more skilled at regulating and identifying emotions. Results indicated that theater majors (compared with those with no acting experience or those with some experience) reported higher temperamental sadness and fear, more positive views toward anger and sadness, greater awareness of their own emotions, and greater ability to amplify their emotions. Theater majors more accurately identified pride expressions than nonactors, but students in the no-acting group more accurately identified anger expressions than those with some acting experience and theater majors. Overall, this study advances current understanding of how actors differ emotionally from other individuals and provides new insight into variations in temperament, emotional beliefs, and regulatory and perceptual skills.
The paper presents the results of a study of the structural features of personal changes of student-actors in the process of studying in the theater college. We hypothesize that at the stage of primary occupation selection and in the training process students aquire and develop specific stable personality structures (association of personal qualities), which are essential for the formation of the subject of acting. The sample consisted of 832 respondent: 686 enrollees of theater college; 188 students at the beginning and 174 — at the end of the 1st year, 106 2nd year, 91 3rd year, and 68 4th year students. Methods: R. Cattell Personality Factors test (16 PF). Results: four invariant factors describing the structural features of the personality of student-actors are identified — personal anxiety, the desire for public communication, emotional impact on the other, individualism. Conclusions: the hypothesis of the presence of stable personality structures was confirmed, a number of essential personal features that contribute to the implementation of stage communication between self, role, and viewer were found.
This qualitative study addressed this primary question: How does talent develop among four Nebraska youth? Four highly talented Nebraska youth in the domains of baton twirling, swimming, rodeo, and both softball and music were interviewed along with their parents and coaches. Results revealed unique talent stories and commonalities among those stories. The stories described a twirling talent trilogy that involved coordinated efforts among student, parent, and coach; a swimmer with all hands on deck that involved supportive family, strong coaching, and center of excellence; a one-horse talent hotbed with a talent-equipped ranch and rodeo coaching parents; and a father-influenced music and softball double play where a father led the way to dual talents. The commonalities among stories included hard work, focus on fundamentals, prior family links to the talent domain, extraordinary parent involvement, and a parent-engineered environment for talent development. The limited roles schools play in fostering talent and parenting implications were also addressed.
The paper presents the results of a study of relationships between personality features and reactions to frustration among the student-actors. We tested the hypothesis about the correlation between behaviors in situations of frustration and such personal characteristics as empathy, trust, and reflexivity in relation to social behavior. Sample: 142 first-year students of a Moscow theatre college. Methods: R. Cattell’s 16 PF Questionnaire and S. Rosenzweig’s frustration picture test. Results: it is shown that projective emotional sensitivity is associated with two types of reactions — self-defense through aggression and self-defense through the acceptance of guilt. Conclusions: we revealed the important role of reactions aimed at resolving the frustrating situation through appealing to the interaction partner; this mode of behavior in a conflict situation is associated with a set of personal characteristics corresponding to the Groundedness factor in Cattell’s test, which implies attention to the specific circumstances of the action.
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This review summarizes recent research into the mental processes of professional actors. A number of studies employing various paradigms have provided converging evidence that actors regard their jobs as doing "for real" whatever the playscript calls upon the character to do (e.g. threatening someone, è attering someone, ridiculing someone, etc.). The role acquisition process appears to take place in two distinct stages. First, the actors extract from the script the underlying intentions of the characters, a procedure that often calls for extensive analysis, because the intentions in well-written plays are rarely explicit or obvious. The deep processing involved calls upon such learning factors as perspective taking, problem solving, elaboration, causal attribution, distinctiveness, and overlearning. Following the analytical phase, actors rehearse and perform their roles by using an approach the authors call "active experiencing" which involves activation of those cognitive-emotive-motor processes inherent in all genuine human transactions. This article also reviews studies that specié cally examined the nature of actors' on-stage emotions, the contributions of actors' physical movements to performance, and certain aspects of professional acting expertise that may lead the way to increased understanding of human cognition.
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Forty male scientists (including 4 who eventually won Nobel prizes) were interviewed four times between 1958 and 1978 concerning their work habits, use of time, hobbies, attitudes toward the arts and humanities, scientific attitudes, and related issues. The 38 who were still alive in 1988 then filled out a questionnaire concerning their use of various forms of thinking (e.g., verbal, visual, kinesthetic), their avocations, forms and extent of physical exercise, and when they were most likely to have significant scientific insights (e.g., while working on a problem directly, while working on other problems, while relaxing, on waking). The questionnaire and interview information was then collated and statistically analyzed with regard to the impact of each scientist to determine if any correlations exist between scientific success and avocations, preferred modes of thinking, use of time, energy, or related factors. Significant correlations were found between scientific success and particular modes of thinking (especially visual ones), between success and various hobbies (especially artistic and musical ones), between particular hobbies and use of particular modes of scientific thinking, between success and having a broad range of avocations and forms of physical exercise, and between success and the efficient use of time to manage many competing vocational and avocational demands. We conclude that successful scientists have highly integrated networks of enterprise, whereas less successful colleagues tend to have fewer nonscientific activities that they do not integrate. They develop nonfunctional networks of enterprise in which activities compete against, rather than sustain, each other.
Taking account of both intrinsic and environmental determinants, Kogan (2002a, b) describes possible interactions between them in a developmental model of performing-arts careers. An alternative model of talent development is offered by Simonton (1999, 2001), who has drawn upon the earlier behavior-genetic research of Lykken (1982), particularly the concept of emergenesis. Questionnaire data from a sample of 122 students in the Actors Studio drama school was examined for its consistency with the Lykken-Simonton emergenesis model. Consistent with the model's expectations, parental professional participation in the dramatic arts was very low, age at which students decided to pursue a dramatic-arts career varied widely, and students' prior school and undergraduate college experience exhibited considerable heterogeneity. The relative merits of a model based entirely on genetic trajectories are discussed in comparison with interactive and purely environmental models. Given the limited empirical base, however, it is far from evident which approach offers the greatest potential for predicting who will become the best actors, directors, and playwrights of the future.
Notable educational theorists have begun to call for the cultivation of empathy in moral education. Currently, and almost exclusively, theorists advocate exploring the characters and worlds in literature and biography to nurture empathic capacities. This paper suggests that we can expand the conversation to include the dramatic art of acting. Using Nel Noddings ethic of Care, I contend that the type of empathy necessary for Caring holds certain skills and processes in common with the type of empathy Method actors employ in their work. Given that acting training breaks down the process of empathy into do-able (and discuss-able) steps, Method techniques may prove useful to educators. The paper also points to certain moral divergences between the empathy in Caring and that employed in acting and suggests that the use of Method techniques be supplemented with moral content and by the exercise of moral reasoning.