Psychological Schools and Acting

As some of you know, I make much of psychological research in my book, THE BEST BOOK ON ACTING. As actors, we seldom realize the psychological presuppositions behind acting systems.


Sigmund Freud was a giant, and his influence on society is inestimable. He pioneered the field of psychoanalysis. At its core, psychoanalysis posits that deep seated experiences at a young age have led to unresolved problems in the present. The human being is driven by irrational drives that are in the subconscious. To be freed from the deleterious effects of the struggle between the subconscious and the conscious, one needs therapeutic intervention in order to bring awareness to the patient. That’s why Freud was big on dream analysis, free association, and even repressed memories.

Since psychoanalysis was more and more popular in the early 20th century, it isn’t hard to see how it influenced the prevailing acting techniques being developed at that time. “Affective memory”, developed by Stanislavsky, was the remembrance of past experiences in order to relive an emotional state, which then could be transferred to the character. Strasberg later developed “Sense Memory” which was the use of physical action in order to recall an experience that would lead to the same emotional result.

Anecdotes are common regarding how even both Stanislavsky and Strasberg were exaggerated by others, and how the pseudo analysis of actors became a widespread practice.


Behaviorism, on the other hand, is an approach to psychology whose primary tenet was that psychology should concern itself with OBSERVABLE behavior, not with unobservable events that take place in the mind.

Much psychological research has been done in the past fifty years on the actual behaviors of people, which I detail extensively in my book. The research points to many factors that can help us understand ourselves, others, and OUR CHARACTERS IN ACTING. This research has led to the system which I call LIFE ACTING.

LIFE ACTING is more concerned with PRESENT IMAGINED FUTURES than on emotional states of the past. In fact there is very little emphasis on emotion at all.

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