Attending live theatre improves empathy, changes attitudes, and leads to pro-social behavior


Can attending live theatre improve empathy by immersing audience members in the stories of others? We tested this question across three field studies (n = 1622), including a pre-registered replication. We randomly assigned audience members to complete surveys either before or after seeing plays, and measured the effects of the plays on empathy, attitudes, and pro-social behavior. After, as compared to before, seeing the plays, people reported greater empathy for groups depicted in the shows, held opinions that were more consistent with socio-political issues highlighted in the shows, and donated more money to charities related to the shows. Seeing theatre also led participants to donate more to charities unrelated to the shows, suggesting that theatre’s effects on pro-sociality generalize to different contexts. Altogether, these findings suggest that theatre is more than mere entertainment; it can lead to tangible increases in empathy and pro-social behavior.

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology