Brain power

How improv can help us deal with uncertainty

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

Getting up on stage is many people’s worst nightmare, but there are various ways it can help us in life.  For instance, new research1 from the University of Michigan highlights how engaging in even a short period of improv can help us handle uncertainty more effectively.

“Individuals also reported a happier mood compared to a control group, who didn’t get the same satisfaction when performing scripted tasks,” the researchers say.

Improv is effective, even for as little as 20 minutes, precisely because of the unexpected nature of the art form.  One of the most popular forms of improv is “Yes, and…”, which requires performers to accept whatever information their partner offers, and add more information to it.

Dealing with uncertainty

The researchers conducted a couple of experiments to explore how performing improv can help with our wellbeing, creativity, and general ability to construct multiple solutions to the problems we encounter.

For instance, in one experiment, the participants were asked to pick a friend to talk about, or a movie to discuss, with various physical actions to help illustrate the movie.  Those in the improv group were able to improve their divergent thinking compared to a control group, with greater comfort dealing with uncertainty also commonly found.

In the second experiment, participants were given either scripted social tasks or improvisation tasks that allowed them to make up their own interactions.  The results found that only those in the improv group experienced enhanced emotions and comfort with uncertainty.

The researchers believe their results show a number of key elements of improvisation.  Firstly, it helps to engage our creativity by making us work with others.  It also improves our mood because it’s an enjoyable activity, whilst it also increases our level of comfort with uncertain social interactions.

“Improvisation is shown in these experiments to produce benefits beyond every day, routine social interactions,” the researchers conclude.

See also: Using the “story spine” as a means to access unconscious knowledge and understanding.

Article source: How Improv Can Help Us Deal With Uncertainty.

Header image source: Aimee Custis Photography on Flickr, CC BY 2.0.


  1. Felsman, P., Gunawardena, S., & Seifert, C. M. (2020). Improv experience promotes divergent thinking, uncertainty tolerance, and affective well-being. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 35, 100632.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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