As a parent, you generally want to provide a wide range of experience for your children. After all, you know that life has its ups and downs, ins and outs, successes and failures, and you want to do your best to expose your child to the broadest range of experiences. You want to help them build the foundations of strong empathy and compassion while you’re still around to help them explore and effectively navigate these new feelings and experiences. But there’s a limit to the range of lived experience you, as a parent, can provide. Venture into the world of drama – of movies, theatre productions, and acting classes, and an infinite array of experiences opens up.
Think of it this way – If you’re bringing your generally healthy child up in a relatively stable household, with a comfortable income level, their understanding of, and empathy for those who are growing up in poverty or as a severely marginalised ‘other’ is limited. But a good movie? Being in the audience when an actor fully embodies a character that is far beyond our lived experience? Science is showing us that these experiences have a very real, measurable effect on our perception and ability to empathise. Watching a well acted movie, we are not merely observers, we are participants in the drama. Our brainwaves and responses sync up with those of the characters on-screen, thus extending our experience far beyond what we might be living in our day-to-day lives.
As discussed in this article, science has started investigating exactly how much we empathise with a character’s experience when we watch movies. Using fMRI brain scans, neuroscientist Talma Hendler and her team have identified two different types of empathy, that connect with two different brain networks. One is mental empathy, and the other is embodied empathy. Mental empathy is the ability to distance yourself from the experience and intellectualise what the other person (in this case the on-screen character) may be feeling, while embodied empathy triggers similar nervous system responses as actually having the lived experience. (Think of a moment when a loved character dies and the tears are running down your face and you’re living the heartbreak with the other characters.) Both of these are incredibly important aspects of understanding to be building. All in the safety of the cinema, with you right at hand to help integrate these new experiences and shifts in perception.
Renowned American film critic, journalist, screenwriter and author, Roger Egbert arrived at the same conclusion years before science officially proved it so, and is recorded as commenting:
“The purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams, and fears.” (Source.)
Here at Drama Works, we are passionate about helping your child grow into an empathetic, compassionate individual, and love to explore all of the ways that drama can contribute to that. Whether it be acting in a movie or play, being a (empathetically insync) audience member at a good movie or play, or even just exploring playing different characters in weekly classes and warm-up games, we know it’s all important and connected. Click here to find out more about ways your child can get involved.
Image source code: Noom Peerapong