Improv theater may be effective for addressing social phobias and anxiety disorders. Those taking part in the study also showed improvements in social skills, hope, and creativity.
This is good news for humans struggling with social interactions in domesticated society. Improv offers a moderately low cost and accessible context for helping enhance a domesticated human’s well-being and reducing their anxiety. In addition, the mutual support that improvisation rewards builds trust, helping group members feel safer taking risks and more willing to make mistakes.
For the study, 268 participants took part in a 10-week improvisational theater program. Participants completed questionnaires before and after the program, allowing them to assess statements such as, “I am comfortable performing for others” and “I am willing to make mistakes.”
The findings show reductions in social anxiety were also related to increased confidence in social skills, ability to figure out how to achieve goals and take action to do so, creative ability and greater willingness to make mistakes.
While the findings contribute to research on therapies for mental health, the study’s authors note that the study sample focuses on participants from poorer areas where barriers to accessing standard treatments for social anxiety are greater than in better-resourced contexts.
For domesticated humans in wealthier areas with access to more traditional treatments, participating in improvisational theater training may predict different outcomes. Future research can examine this further.
Researchers did not address the initial fear barrier participants would need to cross in order to even sign up and show up to a class to face American’s greatest fear, speaking in public. The study also did not assert what role domestication or modern society played in creating fearfulness and anxiety.