New Study Links Musical Theatre To Decreased Anxiety In Performers with Disabilites

The research team monitored a group of performers throughout a musical training program and its resulting production, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

By: Mar. 04, 2024
New Study Links Musical Theatre To Decreased Anxiety In Performers with Disabilites
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A Virginia nonprofit, STEP VA, has released the results of a study of how the components of musical theatre- singing, dancing and acting- affect the brain and behavior of performers with disabilities.

According to the results of the study, the research team found that participation in musical theater showed decreased anxiety among participants, tapping into "states of calmness, focus, concentration, and task switching."

The study surveyed a group of performers over a four month period, using electroencephalography (EEG) caps. The tools monitored the performers brain activity throughout a musical training program and its resulting production, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

The research team was led by neural scientist Julia Basso, assistant professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Noor Tasnim, a doctoral student.

"We had them sing, we had them dance, we had them engage in that musical theater experience," Basso said. "And we did this all while we were recording their brain activity."

Using a blend of pre and post-study surveys and brain activity data obtained through electroencephalography, the team has sufficient data to suggest that engaging with musical theatre showed positive effects on both behavior and the brain. Results were particularly prounounced for social anxiety symptoms like separation anxiety and social phobia.

The results also showed an increase in beta activity due to the high concentration and task switching required to move between singing, acting, and dancing.

Though the positive effects of mind-body movement practices such as dance, yoga, and meditations are well-documented, Basso's focus on "multiplex" arts-based practices is helping to shed light on a lesser known subject, specifically in the case of individuals with disabilities.

"These interventions are so complex in terms of how musical theater performance affects the way we think and feel and also how they impact brain activity," Basso said. "There are holes in the literature, especially with how the moving brain operates, and we're studying this through investigation of dance and other performance art forms."

This comes on the heels of a 2015 study, that links participation in active singing to cognitive improvements in individuals with dementia.

A 2013 study found that nursing home residents who sang show tunes, specifically from classic musicals such as Oklahoma!, The Wizard of Oz, and The Sound of Music, demonstrated increased cognitive performance.



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