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Organized Adult Play and Stress Reduction: Testing the Absorption Hypothesis in a Comedy Improv Theater

Abstract

Objective

Cognitive scientists suggest that stress reduction may be one of the important elements for the success of religion as a social structure. Studies among Christian Charismatics support this model, pointing to the importance of belief, training, and proclivity for psychological absorption in maximizing the influence of cultural rituals for reducing stress and positively influencing mood. Furthermore, this “absorption hypothesis” likely extends to other cultural settings.

Methods

We test the role of absorption in influencing stress and emotional affect among members (N = 12) of a comedy improvisation (improv) theater in upstate New York. We tested for main and interaction effects of improv experience and absorption on self-reported mood and biomarkers of stress on improv and non-improv days.

Results

We found a significant positive association between absorption and cortisol on improv days but no effects for improv experience and no significant interaction effects.

Conclusions

These findings suggest absorption may be important for focus in skilled adult play, but involvement in comedy improv may not be analogous to active church membership.

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Correspondence to Cara Ocobock.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All study participants provided informed consent, and all protocols were approved by the improv theatre and the University at Albany Institutional Review Board (17-E-281).

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Ocobock, C., Lynn, C.D., Sarma, M. et al. Organized Adult Play and Stress Reduction: Testing the Absorption Hypothesis in a Comedy Improv Theater. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology 6, 436–446 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40750-020-00147-z

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Keywords

  • Play
  • Absorption
  • Comedy improvisation (improv)
  • Mood
  • Cortisol