Reducing Social Anxiety and Intolerance of Uncertainty in Adolescents with Improvisational Theater

Elsevier, The Arts in Psychotherapy, 2022
Peter Felsman, Colleen M. Seifert, Brandy Sinco, Joseph A. Himle

Intolerance of uncertainty has been implicated in the development and maintenance of depression and anxiety (McEvoy & Mahoney, 2012). Given that, the lesson of improvisational theater training to embrace uncertainty (Napier, 2004) may explain its link to several psychological benefits such as reductions in anxiety and depression (Krueger, Murphy, & Bink, 2017; Felsman, Seifer, & Himle, 2019).

This study tests whether intolerance of uncertainty changes with participation in improvisational theater class, and whether that change can explain changes in social anxiety.

Surveys were collected on weeks one (n=350) and ten (n=339) of an improvisational theater program across 14 urban public schools, grades 8-12, measuring social anxiety (the Mini-SPIN; Connor, Kobak, Churchill, Katzelnick, & Davidson, 2001) and intolerance of uncertainty (Brief-IUS; Fialko, Bolton, & Perrin, 2012). Participating in the program was associated with significant reductions in social anxiety and intolerance of uncertainty. In our linear mixed model, change in intolerance of uncertainty was associated with greater reductions in social anxiety. This study provides the first evidence that participating in improvisational theater is associated with reductions in intolerance of uncertainty and adds to the argument that improvisational theater training may indirectly provide a low stigma, accessible mental health intervention (Felsman et al., 2019).