Rating the Acting Moment
Actors make imagined characters in imaginary circumstances come alive, as if they were real. What cognitive processes make it possible for actors to accomplish this feat? The goal of this dissertation was to examine three characteristics that actors may possess and that might make this possible: dissociation, flow, and empathy. Acting students (n = 44) and non-acting students (n = 43) first completed a baseline measure of dissociation, and then performed a monologue that was given to them. This performance was recorded and later rated on dimensions of acting. Participants next completed self-report measures of dissociation, flow, and empathy. It was hypothesized that acting students would score higher than non-acting students on all three measures, and that dissociation of all participants would increase post-performance. I also assessed whether acting experience, dissociation, flow, empathy, and/or the time taken to prepare the monologue for performance predicted performance ratings. The results revealed that acting students scored significantly higher than non-acting students on flow (and some of its subscales) and empathy (and some of its subscales). Although no group differences emerged on pre-performance levels of dissociation, only acting students significantly increased their level of dissociation post-performance. Finally, acting experience was the only significant predictor of performance ratings for both acting and non-acting students. This research demonstrates that, compared to non-acting students, acting students report higher levels of empathy and flow immediately after performing a monologue. Additionally for acting students, levels of dissociation rise after performing the monologue. Empathy and dissociation are likely important tools used by actors to “become” a character, and flow is likely the result of actors’ ability to immerse themselves fully in the performance. Nevertheless, acting experience is the strongest predictor of how a performance will be rated.