A new study has found that adolescents' emotional skills may be strengthened through a high school theatre program.
The study was conducted by a team of researchers led by Reed W. Larson at the University of Illinois.
As part of the study, researchers conducted open-ended interviews and observations to gain an in-depth understanding of a high school theatre program.
Ten teenagers were interviewed every two weeks over a three-month period while the theatre group rehearsed a musical.
Two adults who led the production also were interviewed biweekly. In addition, the researchers observed the rehearsals weekly.
The study found that during the rehearsals, teenagers reported frequent emotional experiences, including disappointment, anger, anxiety, and exhilaration. The program provided a culture that helped them learn to respond constructively to the events and feelings associated with these different emotions.
The adults provided models and helped the teens cultivate strategies to manage strong emotions. The youth learned from repeatedly using these strategies to employ positive emotions to motivate their work. They also learned how to manage their own and others' negative emotions.
The theatre setting supported this process by putting the youth in situations in which emotions were likely to occur because the expectation of hard work created stress and tension.
The study also noted that the young people were very actively engaged in the process of emotional learning. In the theatre setting, they were proactive in learning to manage emotional situations, evaluated experiences and put to use the insights they gained, and actively drew on the ideas and assistance of adults and peers.
"The development of 'emotional intelligence' is important to adult work and family life, but many young people arrive in adulthood with incomplete emotional skills," Larson said.
The findings of the study were published in the July-August issue of the journal Child Development.