Groundbreaking research is discovering that students involved in performing arts undergo cognitive changes (I’d say improvements!), especially in the areas of memory and generation of ideas. Do you have to be a theater student to get this creative brain boost? The good news is that even audiences will benefit from the intellectual stimulation of live theater, and science is confirming what theater teachers have always suspected.

Watching a live performance isn’t just entertainment: scientists call it an experience of embodied aesthetics which are “grounded in the embodied simulation of the actions, emotions, and corporeal sensations represented in artworks.” This can have a lasting impact on your thinking and your perception of the world around you.

The Research

In part of a live theatre study, researchers examined how students were impacted by either Hamlet or A Christmas Carol. For the study, 670 students from grades 7-12 were broken up into 24 evenly matched groups. The “treatment” group saw a high-quality theatre production, and the “control” groups either read the play or watched the movie versions of the works.

Books, theater, and movies don’t have the same effect on students: though the characters and plot for the stories are consistent throughout each of the three mediums, researchers found that reading and watching a movie did not have the same effect as watching a live theatre performance.

In fact, the differences were remarkable. For example, when surveyed 6 weeks later, 83% of students who saw Hamlet in theatre identified Guildenstern and Rosencrantz as Hamlet’s friends, but only 45% of the control group could identify the characters. The group who watched the live theatre performance also had a better grasp of the characters’ emotions and the play’s vocabulary.

As one high school teacher in Louisiana said of our troupe at AMU, “THIS is how young people should encounter Shakespeare! I brought some of my high school Drama students to see the spring production of The Taming of the Shrew, and we were blown away by the level of talent and professionalism of these young actors. Well done, all!”

How Your Brain Responds to Watching Live Theatre

When someone watches a theatre performance, their cognitive and emotional and social skills improve in the forms of knowledge, tolerance, historical empathy and critical thinking. Additionally, those people are more likely to grow into cultural consumers, immersing themselves in art, music, books and live cultural events.

The positive impact of live theatre is especially beneficial for young minds because it has a broadening effect. Students who are introduced to different cultures and ways of thinking can escape a more limited perception of the world around them. As one expert said: “By being exposed to something outside of their narrow world, they gain some greater understanding of and acceptance of that broader world.”


To experience this cognitive boost for yourself, keep an eye on our ticketing page for announcements about our upcoming plays at AMU:, and follow our troupe on Facebook or Instagram!