People with a wide range of emotional disorders, including anxiety disorder and depression, react negatively to uncertainty. When worrying about future events, not knowing can feel very uncomfortable, leading to increased avoidance and inflexibility.
New research from the University of Michigan and Northern Michigan University tested whether addressing discomfort with uncertainty through improvisational training is related to reduced social anxiety.
Previous studies show an intensive clinical intervention—18 weekly, 1-hour private sessions of cognitive behavior therapy—works to reduce intolerance of uncertainty. But most people, including teens, don’t have access to expensive therapies, and want to avoid the stigma of clinical disorders, says Peter Felsman, the study’s lead author and U-M doctoral graduate.
Felsman and colleagues investigated improvisational theater training to determine whether learning to “sit in the discomfort” of uncertainty might help. For example, in an improv exercise, two students improvise a story together, with each, in turn, introducing novel ideas their partner can’t predict. They must accept the new idea and build upon it to co-create the story.
“Improv experiences require facing the unknown, with each successive moment allowing infinite possibilities,” said study co-author Colleen Seifert, U-M psychology professor.
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The study’s results show that improv training is connected to reduced social anxiety through better tolerance of uncertainty.