What Happens to Actors’ Brains When They Get into Character?

The best actors in the world embody the characters they’re playing, immersing themselves in how the character might think, act and feel in different situations. Many who use “method acting” techniques almost become their character. But how extensive is the transformation, scientists at McMaster University in Canada wondered. So they devised some tests for a group of theater majors all trained to use the Stanislavski approach, and measured their brain functions while they were deep in character. When the actors were fully in character, the MRI scans showed decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain connected to self-awareness, suggesting that the actors were truly "losing themselves" in their acting.

Getting into character:

  • Developed by Constantin Stanislavski in the early 20th century at the Moscow Art Theater, the Stanislavski version of method acting seeks realism by focusing on a character’s motivations, obstacles and objectives.
  • Using this method, an actor tries to discover what a character wants, the things that prevent the character from getting it, and what means the character will use to achieve this goal.
  • Unlike Lee Strasberg’s “Method Acting,” where actors attempt to become their characters fully, the Stanislavski approach encourages performers to remain separate from the characters in order to understand motivations and goals.
More Info: Smithsonian magazine

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