Effects of Theatre Arts on Emotional Intelligence

This study has attempted to examine the impact that an individual’s involvement in Theatre Arts has on his or her Emotional Intelligence (EI). The hypothesis in the present research is thus, “there is a positive relationship between one’s involvement in theatre arts and their emotional intelligence.” Participants of this study were residents of Bangalore city, India (N=80). The scale which was employed in this research to administer on the sample was the ‘Emotional Intelligence Scale’, developed by Anukool Hyde, Sanjyot Pethe and Upinder Dhar. The findings of the study were such that individuals who have been active participants of theatre arts had a higher EI (M=138.67) than those individuals who were not exposed to the theatre arts (M=129.65). These results indicate that exposure to, participation in and the understanding of the theatre arts is highly useful in emotional, and hence mental well-being.


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Emotional intelligence (EI) is defined by Cooper and Sawaf (1997) as the ability to sense, understand and effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions as a source of human energy, information, connection and influence. It comprises of the power to perceive accurately, evaluate and express emotions; the ability to comprehend emotions and emotional knowledge and intellectual growth. It also is characterized by- self awareness, mood management, self motivation, empathy, managing relationships. The most extensively recognized definition of emotional intelligence, is that given by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, who have been leading researchers in the field, and is defined as “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions” (1990).

What popularized the study of emotional intelligence is the publication of Goleman’s bestselling “Emotional Intelligence” in 1995. This model introduced by Daniel Goleman places its focus on leadership performance guided by a large collection of competencies and skills by means of emotional intelligence (Goleman, 1988). Goleman’s model demarcates four main EI constructs, namely, self-awareness, which is the ability to construe one’s emotions and understand their influence while using intuitions and instincts to direct decisions; self-management, that which has to do with controlling one’s emotions and impulses and adjusting in new situations; social awareness, the ability to discern, comprehend, and respond to others’ emotions; and relationship management, the ability to motivate, influence, and develop others while dealing with difficult situations (Bradberry, Travis and Greaves, Jean, 2009).

The origins of this subject can be traced back to Darwin’s work on the importance of emotional expression for survival (Bar-On, 2006). In The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), Darwin put forth that human emotional expressions have an adaptive and survival value, and that this feature has its consequences in its evolution. However, he posited that there are some human reactions which are not of significant survival value now, but were in the past, and that this, coupled with a similarity of emotional expression among all human beings suggests a common descent from an earlier pre-human ancestor (Encyclopaedia of Psychology, n.d.).

In the twentieth century, publications began appearing with the work of Edward Thorndike on social intelligence in 1920, which described the skill of understanding and managing other people (Bar-On, 2006). Many of these early studies focused on describing, defining and assessing socially competent behaviour (Chapin, 1942; Doll, 1935; Moss & Hunt, 1927; Moss et al., 1927; Thorndike, 1920). This was then followed by studies on the influence of non-intellectual factors on intelligent behaviour, by D Wechsler (as cited in Bar-On, 2006) and the concept of multiple intelligences as put forth by Howard Gardner in 1983 (Smith M.K., 2002). In the recent years the study of emotional intelligence has escalated. Research includes areas ranging from emotional intelligence and its relationship with work place and social competencies to its influence on a healthy and productive life as such (Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, http://www.eiconsortium.org/about_us.htm). For example, emotional intelligence has become increasingly popular as a measure for identifying potentially effective leaders, and as a tool for developing effective leadership skills (Palmer, Walls, Burgess, Stough, Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 2001). In the study mentioned, emotional intelligence correlated with several components of transformational leadership suggesting that it may be an important component of effective leadership. In particular emotional intelligence may account for how effective leaders monitor and respond to subordinates and make them feel at work. Further in a study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership, in the USA, individual scores as obtained by a multi-rater feedback tool called Benchmarks were compared to self-reported emotional intelligence as measured by the BarOn EQ-I, and the findings were that key leadership skills and perspectives are related to aspects of emotional intelligence and the absence of emotional intelligence was related to career derailment (Leadership Skills and Emotional Intelligence, Center for Creative Leadership, http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/assessments/skills_intelligence.pdf, 2003).

The study of emotional intelligence has been of high momentum in the field of healthcare as well. In the year 2000, study conducted by Joseph Cairochi, Frank P. Deane and Stephen Anderson, Department of Psychology, University of Wollongong, Australia, hypothesized that EI would make a unique contribution to understanding the relationship between stress and three important mental health variables, depression, hopelessness, and suicidal ideation. This was a cross-sectional study where university students were required to evaluate their life-stress, objective and self-reported emotional intelligence, and mental health. One of the findings revealed that stress was associated with greater suicidal ideation among those low in managing others’ emotions (MOE). MOE was shown to be statistically different from other relevant measures, suggesting that EI is highly essential in understanding the link between stress and mental health.

Emotional Intelligence and Alexithymia-

Alexithymia- literally without words for emotions, in Greek- was a term originally coined by psychotherapist Peter Sifneos in 1973 in order to describe a state of deficiency in understanding, processing or describing emotions (Bar-On & Parker, 2000, p40-59, Taylor ,1997, p28-31). Alexithymia is defined by many factors, such as, “difficulty identifying feelings and distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal; difficulty describing feelings to other people; constricted imaginal processes, as evidenced by a paucity of fantasies; a stimulus-bound, externally oriented cognitive style.” (Taylor,1997, p29).

Logically, one would expect an inverse relation between the constructs of alexithymia and emotional intelligence. This expectation has been supported in the literature. Schutte et al (1998) found that in a sample consisting of University students, a self-report measure of emotional intelligence (the Self Report Emotional Intelligence Test) was significantly inversely correlated with the Toronto Alexithymia Scale, which was used as the standard measure for alexithymia . Research with larger community samples has particularly found significant associations. For example, Parker, Taylor, and Bagby (2001) found a strong negative correlation between the Emotion Quotient Inventory and the TAS in a sample of 734 community members (Stys, Brown, 2004, A Review of the Emotional Intelligence- Literature and Implications for Corrections, 28).

According to Johanna Vanderpol (n.d.)- author, speaker, coach and workshop provider in emotional intelligence and emotional well-being, Canada- art and play, which are forms of emotional expression, are the essential ways in which individuals, especially young children, expand their abilities and master their environment, further stating that emotional expression is but a part of developing emotional intelligence.

One such study presented a series of experiential exercises designed to use visual arts and poetry in classroom settings to increase students’ awareness and recognition of emotion-two key components of emotional intelligence (Morris, Urbanski, Fuller, 2005). In a study titled “Emotional Intelligence and the Performing Arts: Crossing Disciplinary Boundaries”, an experiential training program that employed the Ability Model of emotional intelligence (Salovey and Mayer, 1990, 1997) was combined with performing arts and drama therapy to create a workshop program, whose aim was to increase the awareness of the role of emotions in working life, and provided interactive learning opportunities to engage with complicated emotional dilemmas arising from their leadership roles. Survey results from the workshops and a focus-group at three months follow-up revealed that participants used the learning experience of the workshop to address and resolve specific leadership challenges in their role (Rauker, Skinner, Bett, 2009).

The current study attempts to show a relationship between emotional intelligence and one’s involvement in the Theatre Arts. Theatre, or Drama, as it is more commonly known, is the most integrative of all the arts: it can and often does, include singing, dancing, painting, sculpture, storytelling, puppetry, music, poetry and of course, the art of acting (Snow, D’Amico, Tanguay, 2003, p73). Also it has been of wide contention that there is an innate healing function in theatre which goes all the way back to its origins in human culture (Bates, 1988; Emunah, 1994; McNiff, 1988; Pendzik, 1988; Snow, 1996). A wide range of study has been done on the influence of drama on psychological well being and the role it plays in psychotherapy, hence giving rise to the concept of Drama Therapy. Drama therapy is one of the several expressive or creative art therapies among which are art therapy, dance/movement therapy, music therapy, poetry therapy and psychodrama, concerning the therapist and the client who attempt to evaluate their life experiences as they engage in a largely creative process, in this case through the media of drama and theatre (Landy, 2006, p135). One such drama therapy technique that has been studied is “Dramatic Resonances”. This method is based on the creative responses that participants offer from within dramatic reality to an input posed from outside dramatic reality (Pendzik, 2008, p217). Further, therapeutic theatre has been a growing field and which is an approach that involves a therapeutic development of a play and its presentation in front of an audience (Pendzik, 2008). It is defined as “the therapeutic development of a play in which the roles are established with therapeutic goals in mind; the whole process of play production is, in fact, a form of group psychotherapy; it is all facilitated by a therapist skilled in drama; and finally the play must be performed for a public audience” (Snow, D’Amico, Tanguay, 2003, p73). However, according to Robert J. Landy, though the field of drama therapy has been growing by the numbers, university-based training programs in the USA are inadequate (Landy, 2006). This trend could be an indicator of a potential consequent decline in the study of this field. This paper aims to encourage a positive shift from such a trend and bring about a focus on an increasing awareness and attestation of the constructive relationship between Drama and emotional intelligence.

Considering the significant research that has gone into the relationship between emotional well-being and the theatre arts, largely in the West, this study attempts to investigate the prevalence of a positive relationship between a thorough involvement in the Theatre Arts and emotional intelligence, among individuals residing in a theatre-active city in India. The study is conducted by means of a questionnaire that is based on the Emotional Intelligence Scale, as completed by a total of 120 individuals, all of whom reside in Bangalore, India, a city acclaimed for its active involvement in the theatre arts.


The study was conducted by means of a standardized questionnaire, viz. the Emotional Intelligence Scale (EIS), as completed by a total of 80 individuals, all of whom reside in Bangalore, India, a city acclaimed for its active involvement in the theatre arts. Of these 80 individuals, 40 belong to the control group. This group consists of individuals who have not been exposed to the theatre arts. Of these 40 individuals, 20 belong to the age group of 20-25 years (M age-group= 21.5) while the rest belong to the age group of 30-35 years (M age-group= 32). The experimental group consists of 40 individuals who have been active members of theatre associations across the city. Of these 40 individuals, 20 belong to an age group of 30-35 years (M age-group=32.5); while the rest belong to an age-group of 20-25 years (M age-group=21.5).

Ethical concerns were met with, as the participants were informed of the purpose of the study, were made to sign a consent form before participating in the study and were assured of confidentiality.


The questionnaire used was a standardized Emotional Intelligence Scale developed by Anukool Hyde, Upender Dhar & Sanjyot Pethe, in the year 2001, published by Vedant Publications, Lucknow and consisted of 34 questions based on the Likert scale, in a way that the participant was asked to respond to each statement-question by choosing one of the five options- Strongle Agree, Agree, Uncertain, Disagree, Strongly Disagree.


This study fundamentally deals with two variables which are involvement in the theatre arts and emotional intelligence, the dependent variable being emotional intelligence and the independent variable being involvement in theatre arts. Of the 80 individuals, 40 belonged to the control group, consisting of individuals who have not been exposed to the theatre arts. The experimental group consists of 40 individuals who have been active members of theatre associations across the city. Of these 40 individuals, 20 belong to an age group of 30-35years and have had experience in one or more of the various aspects of theatre such as acting, directing, story-telling, music, etc for a minimum of 10 plays; while the rest belong to an age-group of 20-25 years and have similarly participated in a minimum of 5 plays so far. This division of age groups was employed with an aim to represent a “growth” in the group’s emotional intelligence.


The experimental group was obtained at an auditioning program held by Evam, a leading dramatics association in Bangalore, when 40 individuals, some who were auditioning and some organizing, were approached to on a one to one basis, and made to fill out the EIS questionnaire each. Demographic details as their age, sex and experience in theatre were taken. The control group consisted of randomly selected individuals who reside Bangalore, and have had no experience of involvement in the theatre arts. They were similarly made to fill out the EIS, along with their respective corresponding details. The entire study was conducted in one city in an attempt to maintain a certain consistency in obtaining the results, and minimising any potential disparity.


With the raw scores obtained, the statistical analysis that followed included finding out the mean, standard deviation, standard error of the difference between the means of two samples and employing of a non-parametric test as the Mann-Whitney U test.

In the results obtained for the Mann-Whitney U test, the z values of sampling distribution of U an U’, 2 and 5.68 respectively, were found to be significant at both 0.05 and 0.01 levels. The average mean for the experimental group was 138.67, and for the control group was 129.65. For the experimental group, the value of standard deviation was found to be 8.83. For the control group, the SD obtained was 1.11. In determining the significance of the difference between the two means of the two groups, the standard error obtained was 2.10, for which the z value was found to be 4.29. Thus, the computed z value was found to be significant at both 1% and 5% significance levels.

Further, the Mann-Whitney U test was employed to the subgroups under the experimental group in order to show a positive relation between the two. While the z value obtained for U was found to be 1.48, implying insignificant at 0.05 and 0.01 significance levels, the z value obtained for U’ was 7.85, which meant significant at both 0.05 as well as 0.01 significance levels.


This paper has attempted fundamentally to study the symbiotic relationship between one’s involvement in the theatre arts and their emotional intelligence, and how, with time and experience, an increasing involvement in the same renders one to develop greater EI, which in turn implies an increased accuracy in perceiving, appraising, managing and expressing emotions. As Cooper and Sawaf demonstrated in 1997, the characteristic manifests of a high EI include self-awareness, mood management, self motivation, empathy and managing relationships. Thus, through investigating the levels of emotional intelligence of the participating individuals, and inquiring into their experience in the theatre arts, the researcher has arrived at findings which show a positive relationship between the two variables. From examining the results obtained, some of the deductions are, that young adults who involve in the theatre arts as drama (acting), music, story-telling, and direction, tend to have a high emotional intelligence as compared to young adults who do not engage in any of the theatre arts; and that with time and experience these individuals could possibly have a propensity to a consistent growth in their EI, again, as compared to individuals of their age, who have had no inclination towards the theatre arts. These two findings could further imply that these individuals would be likely to have more rewarding, productive and successful lives. One more supposition which could be drawn from the results of this study is that these individuals could be liable to do better coping with the stress and setbacks, implying a lowered risk of heart disease, anxiety attacks, psychological distress, sleep problems, high blood pressure, poor immune function, alcoholism, etc (Mikolajczack, Luminet, Menil, 2006; Hunt, Evans, 2002; Trinidad, Johnson, 2000). However, there are some probable challenges that can be posed to these conclusions. The entire study was based in one single city, and the challenge in this case is that the theatre-culture may vary from city to city, just as from theatre-group to theatre-group. Therefore, generalizing the results would have to be limited only to the city where the study was conducted. Further, the study did not consider the role gender could play in the relationship between one’s EI and their involvement in the theatre arts, as there was no categorization of the two sexes while conducting the study. This could, in fact, entail future experiment on whether gender plays a role in the development of EI, by way of thorough involvement in the theatre arts. Additionally, the researcher has considered the theatre arts as a whole, comprising of its various aspects such as acting, music, story-telling, and direction. The participants of the study belonging to these categories were distributed unequally. Thus, the results obtained in the study are required to be considered generically and cannot be taken into account categorically. Probably, further research could be carried out to study the individual aspects, such as acting, alone, for example, and studying the aspect’s relationship with the participant’s emotional intelligence. One possible source of error and an intervening variable could have been the environment of administering the test and the mental set of the participant while filling out the questionnaire. It must be noted that the study was conducted at an auditioning program of a theatre group and that most of the participants of the study had only just finished their turn at the audition. It can be assumed that the mental set of the participant at this stage, could have possibly affected his or her responses in the test. In other words, the participant’s perception of his or her own performance at the audition, which could either have been positive and affirmative or negative and uncertain of his or her chances to be successful in the attempted task, is likely to have influenced the responses he or she provided in the Emotional Intelligence Scale. A possible remedy for this, to neutralize the effects of the performance at the audition, could be that the researcher could provide the participant with a time-gap of approximately half an hour, following which, the test could be administered, assuming that consequently, the participant is less likely to be influenced by the audition-performance while responding to the given test.

In conclusion, this study has successfully investigated the issue it primarily aimed to, and in spite of the potential challenges faced in the deduction of its findings, it has proved the hypothesis that there is a positive relationship between one’s involvement in the theatre arts and their emotional intelligence. The findings of the study entail further research in the vast area of psychological health and the creative arts, of which the theatre arts are an integral part, especially in India, as the current study was conducted with an aim to bring about an awareness in the Indian society, of the great advantages of the theatre arts and its positive relationship with psychological well-being.

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