Actors suppress their sense of self when playing a new character

Actors may suppress their core sense of self when acting, as they immerse themselves in a new role, finds a new study by UCL researchers.

The research, published in Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, suggests that when actors take on a new character, they may be able to suppress their everyday self — implying that theatre training may have a big impact on the fundamental mechanisms of the human brain.

Researchers worked in collaboration with Flute Theatre, who create and deliver interactive productions of Shakespeare for autistic individuals and their families, using a series of sensory drama games, known as the Hunter Heartbeat Method.

The team used wearable brain imaging technologies pioneered at UCL’s department of Biomedical Engineering, alongside physiological measurement devices, to evaluate the brain activity of actors as they rehearsed scenes from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The findings showed that when the actors heard their own name during the performance, their response was suppressed in the left anterior prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is usually associated with self-awareness. The same result was witnessed consistently in six actors who were tested when rehearsing several times over a week.

Meanwhile, when the performers were not in acting conditions, they responded normally to hearing their own name.

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