The Value of Field Trips

February 3, 2015

By Intern, Brennan O’Rourke

As local and federal government standardized testing for schools becomes stricter, many schools have begun to devalue culturally enriching experiences that do not take place in the classroom. Schools have shifted most of their attention to improving standardized test scores. With this unnerving realization, EducationNext, an organization that chronicles the changing landscape of education and the theories behind certain educational objectives, began a study to understand the effects of field trips to art museums and live theatre performances. The study was conducted by researchers Jay P. Greene, Collin Hitt, Anne Kraybill, and Cari A. Bogulski.

The researchers began by describing that many field trips like museums visits introduce students to something they previously may not have even thought to enjoy. After conducting their experiment, they discovered many benefits to visiting art museums and viewing live theatre; including “future cultural consumption, tolerance, historical empathy, critical thinking, knowledge of plot and vocabulary, and improved ability to read the emotions of others.”

What I find most interesting is the children’s ability to read the emotions of others increased after participating in the cultural field trips. The researchers used a test called the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), which examines a student’s ability to understand what a person is thinking by simply looking into their eyes. This test, created by British psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, is used to gage a specific individual’s capacity for empathy. They discovered that “engaging in theatrical role-playing enhances people’s ability to read the emotions of others, and that watching live theatre” has a similar effect. The way the RMET works is that 28 photographs are cropped to show only people’s eyes. Then, the students “are asked to pick one of four words that best describes what the photographed person is thinking or feeling.”  This test helped the researchers prove that theatrical exposure enhances the student’s ability to read the emotion of others.

This study proves that theater enhances student’s emotional intelligence. When we engage in live theatre and watch the actors, we are interpreting their emotions and comprehending the experiences of the characters onstage. To me, it is no surprise that theatrical exposure helps students to better understand the emotions of others, because in an audience, we begin to learn and follow the emotions of the characters onstage. This makes it easier to transfer to everyday life and our interactions with others. Studies like this prove the importance of Arts For All programs such as the Audience Tour Project, in which professional actors tour around NYC schools performing live theatre productions to the benefit of the children.

IMG_5384adjA Picture from the 2014 Audience Project, The Emperor’s New Clothes.

After conducting the experiment, the researchers concluded that students exposed to live theatre more accurately identified the emotions of other people than those students that were not exposed.  While this may not translate into test scores, we should be promoting empathy and compassion amongst our students, so that they are better equipped to contribute positively to society.

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