Improvisation can be a seemingly magical experience from the perspective of both improviser and observer. People with little or no actual knowledge about one another, in an empty space, create a world, a relationship, a story with neither script nor director nor defined outcome. It can appear that improvisers are either mind-readers, telepathic, or planned the whole thing, when in reality they are creating together in real time, on the spot.
|Workshop offered by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, CGP, MT|
at 2017 AIN World Conference, UC-Irvine
To understand the importance of creative experiences that promote and exploit the brain and mind's organic response to social-emotional triggers, it helps to understand the problem these experiences address. Dr. Dan Siegel, a researcher, writer and trainer, describes the power of social experience to shape the brain in his book The Developing Mind. He writes that "human connections shape neural connections, and each contributes to mind. Relationships and neural linkages together shape themind. It is more than the sum of its parts; this is the essence of emergence." What gives creativity its rich rewards is that tension between what is and what is emerging. The discomfort of this can range from uncomfortable to unbearable, but research shows that we can grow our capacity to withstand this tension and direct it toward learning and discovery. “Research on brain plasticity has shown how connectivity between neurons can change with experience,” according to Mindsetworks.com, a resource for educators and change agents. “With practice, neural networks grow new connections, strengthen existing ones, and build insulation that speeds transmission of impulses. These neuroscientific discoveries have shown us that we can increase our neural growth by the actions we take.”
- A social environment of safety and support
- Emotional heightening of experience which drives attention to the new information
- Experiences that trigger the brain’s reward chemistry – experiences of a “win” combined with social interaction are ideal
- Novelty and creativity, which are associated with the brain chemistry of reward
Get out of overthinking and jump into a physical experience that connects the players in a shared goal;
Experience the “high” of a “win” that can be experienced when the goal is achieved;
Observe what happens internally over the course of a few or more attempts to achieve the goial;
Identify internal shifts as each turn progresses, which are attempts to achieve the goal as the game proceeds;
The group identifies 3 iconic figures from a world familiar to everyone in the group, all of whom inspire everyone in a similar way, e.g. 3 great thinkers: Albert Einstein, Carl Jung, Carl Rogers; 3 iconic women: Michelle Obama, Madame Curie, Harriet Tubman; A strong identifiable pose is created to represent each of these individuals. The group breaks into teams of 3. In the style of "rock, paper, scissors" the leader of another group member counts out loud "1, 2, 3 pose!" and on "pose" each player assumes one of the postures. The goal is to get one of each icon represented at the same moment.
This game is a non-verbal way to connect players in a common goal. The "problem" is a simple one but there is really no strategy or cognitive process that will help realize the goal. It requires simply trying. The willingness to keep trying until the goal is achieved. And it taps into a different pathway of connection between people, an intuitive, unspoken connection that develops when we play together. This "sense" of being connected to others is cultivated by playing games and an almost magical awareness of what the group is moving toward is what makes improvisation possible. It is also the mental and social process that drives creative problem-solving.
RESEARCH: The REWARD Circuitry of the brain provides an uptick in well-being that
makes it more likely to want to repeat the experience that gave rise to it. The brain is especially responsive to rewarding experiences that required effort and for which there was no definite outcome. Uncertainty, as in a game, heightens attention and when the effort to attend and respond leads to a "win" the brain will get a spike in dopamine, the "feel-good" chemical. Rewarding experiences in groups can provide repair experiences for social injury. They can compensate for the painful experience and rewire the brain to have an updated memory – a social/emotional upgrade “We feel rewarded when we create new objects or actions. And since creativity is based on decisions made by the creator, the reward system kicks in when we are in control and inventing things we have thought of ourselves.” James Zull, “Arts, Neuroscience and Learning” Newhorizons.org
Demonstrate radical acceptance
Experience radical acceptance
"Break set" mentally-commit to a physical activity without cognitive labeling
Enter into mind set of "yes" to whatever is offered that is necessary for improvisation
Experience the emotional satisfaction of giving unconditional support to others
Round 1: Participants stand in a circle. A category is suggested from the group. Player 1 has to name 3 things in this category, e.g. "fruit." After the first one the group yells "1!" very enthusiastically, after the 2nd one they yell "2!" and after the third "3!" Then big applause. A new category is chosen for the next player and the group does the same. A new category is named for each player.
Round 2: A category is suggested by the group for the first player. Player 1 then "acts out" something within that category and the next player in the circle names it. Absolutely anything the person acting out does is great, and whatever label it is given is accepted. The group calls out "1, 2, 3!" as in the first round. The idea is to let go of old ideas about "getting it right" or worrying about content. Its about radical acceptance and unconditional support.
Round 3: A suggestion of "something that doesn't exist" from the group and the facilitator guides the group to make the category a little more complex, e.g. "movies starring Robert de Niro" "books by Stephen King" or "talk shows." A player "acts out" a title and the next player makes up the thing that doesn't exist as if that's what is being acted out. After each one the group calls out "1, 2 3!" with great enthusiasm.
Debrief: Radical acceptance from a group combined with a creative challenge in which any response is correct is an entirely different way to interact with other people than what we usually encounter. Doing an activity like this is a way to examine what it feels like to connect with others in this way and what is it like to play with ideas and receive unconditional support. The emphasis on fun and positivity creates a new rule for engaging with others and reduces the tendency to overthink when doing creative activities.
Impact of social rejection research study: Research subjects were engaged in a ball-tossing experiment and told that what was being studied was reflex time. At some point during the experiment, all the secret research guys stopped tossing the ball to the research subject. Afterwards, the subjects talked mostly about how they felt about being left out of the game. MRI tests of their brain activity show that social rejection and vulnerability is processed in the same part of the brain that processes physical pain. “Broken hearts and broken bones: a neural perspective on the similarities between social and physical pain.” Current Directions InPsychological Science
"Praise taps into the same reinforcement system that enables cheese to help rats through a maze." Matt Lieberman, Phd, researcher, in Social:Why Our Brain Are Wired To Connect