Actors lose their sense of ‘self’ when they take up a character, new research has shown.
Experts asked theatre students to get into character before the study began.
They were then asked a series of questions and asked to respond as either themselves, a character, how they thought a friend would react, or in a different language.
Scans revealed changes in two areas of the front of the the brain that are linked to a person’s sense of ‘self’.
Personality changes are often seen in patients who experience damage to this part of the brain, known as the cerebral cortex.
Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld (pictured) star in Romeo And Juliet. Changes in brain activity changes in line with an actors losing their sense of ‘self’ when they take up a character, the latest research has shown
Adopting someone else’s perspective when answering the questions caused brain activity to drop in these parts to drop, in line with ‘losing’ a sense of self.
The 15 actors in the study were mostly theatre students, who were immersed in Shakespeare characters, either Romeo or Juliet in an acting workshop.
They then underwent MRI brain scans in the laboratory to detect how their brain activity changed when they adopted other characters, including themselves.
They were asked how they would respond to specific scenarios either as Romeo or Juliet, a friend, as themselves or as themselves but speaking in a different language.
The researchers from McMaster University in Canada detected a drop in brain activity in parts of the prefrontal cortex, when actors responded as someone else.
Scans revealed changes in two areas of the front of the the brain that are linked to a person’s sense of ‘self’. Personality changes are often seen in patients who experience damage to this part of the brain, known as the cerebral cortex
The change corresponded with someone thinking from another person’s perspective.
‘Portraying a character through acting seems to be a deactivation-driven process, perhaps representing a “loss of self”,’ the researchers said.
A similar brains response was detected when the participant adopted another accent, leading researchers to suggest that gestures and accents help actors stand in someone else’s shoe.
Only when the actor was in character, however, as a Romeo or a Juliet, was an additional increase detected in an area of the brain called the precuneus.
This is an area associated with mental imagery strategies, memory retrieval and environmental perception, among other functions of perception.
Dr Steven Brown, the main researcher on the study, said: ‘It looks like when you are acting, you are suppressing yourself; almost like the character is possessing you.’
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
WHAT IS A MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING (MRI) SCAN?
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body.
An MRI scanner is a large tube that contains powerful magnets. You lie inside the tube during the scan.
An MRI scan can be used to examine almost any part of the body, including the brain and spinal cord, bones and joints, breasts, heart and blood vessels and internal organs – such as the liver, womb or prostate gland.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body. An MRI scanner is a large tube that contains powerful magnets. You lie inside the tube during the scan
The results of an MRI scan can be used to help diagnose conditions, plan treatments and assess how effective previous treatment has been.
Most of the human body is made up of water molecules, which consist of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. At the centre of each hydrogen atom is an even smaller particle, called a proton. Protons are like tiny magnets and are very sensitive to magnetic fields.
When you lie under the powerful scanner magnets, the protons in your body line up in the same direction, in the same way that a magnet can pull the needle of a compass.
Short bursts of radio waves are then sent to certain areas of the body, knocking the protons out of alignment. When the radio waves are turned off, the protons realign. This sends out radio signals, which are picked up by receivers.
These signals provide information about the exact location of the protons in the body. They also help to distinguish between the various types of tissue in the body, because the protons in different types of tissue realign at different speeds and produce distinct signals.
In the same way that millions of pixels on a computer screen can create complex pictures, the signals from the millions of protons in the body are combined to create a detailed image of the inside of the body.