New Study Shows Why Everyone Should Care About Improv


It’s been a landmark few years for improvisation in the worlds of neuroscience and psychology. If you’ve kept up with our newsletter, you may recall the highlights:

  • 2019: study shows that “improvisation facilitates group flow and positive emotions,” (in 2021, scientists report the same phenomena in trauma patients)
  • 2020: researchers show that “improvisation increases uncertainty tolerance” and “affective well-being”
  • 2021: organizational researchers report that “the skills and mindset of improvisers are highly desirable” in non-performance contexts like design, collaboration, and idea generation

But, there has never been a universal academic definition for improvisation beyond the world of theater and performance. That is… until now.

The Unified Theory of Improv

This year, a study published in the Journal of Thinking Skills and Creativity finally proposed a universal definition for improvisation and identified the specific skills that we all recruit when we improvise in our jobs and everyday lives.

They write that improvisation is a universal human experience defined by: “human action in the context of situations characterized by uncertainty and temporal urgency.”

In other words: we’re improvising anytime we have to respond quickly to a new or unforeseen event.

And, much like physical exercise, the researchers note that improvisation is inherently action-based and learned. That means two things:

  1. It’s only improv if you actually do something in real-time (whether that’s acting, reacting, or interacting)
  2. You don’t need to be a natural-born improviser to become great at it (anyone can train up their improv skills with practice).

The 8 Skills of Highly-Effective Improvisers

An entrepreneur interviewed for the study said it best: “improvisation is not magic. It’s not just pure talent. It’s actually experience… The more experience you have, the better you’ll get at improvisation.”

And, according to the study, to be a great improviser on the human stage, you’ll want as much practice as possible in these 8 skill areas:

  1. Embracing uncertainty
  2. Adapting to changes
  3. Using physical and mental “warm-ups” to prepare
  4. Generating new ideas
  5. Experimenting with/trying new ideas
  6. Applying intuitive knowledge and past experiences
  7. Accepting help and building on others’ ideas
  8. Making use of existing frameworks and processes

So, here’s your challenge: Pick one of the above skills and think of 3 ways you can practice it at work, at home, or in your relationships.

And stay tuned, we’ll continue to dig into these skills and ways to train them in the coming weeks! Until then, and as always, we got your back.

Want to train up you or your team’s skills with an expert?Learn more about Speechless Inc’s improv-based learning experiences here!



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