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Psychological effects of method acting

Method acting is employed by actors to evoke realistic emotions into their performance by drawing on personal experiences. Raymond Hamden, doctor of Clinical and Forensic Psychology, defines the purpose of method acting as “compartmentalizing their own feelings while playing another character [so] they could bring the emotions of that personal feeling to cry if they needed to with that character.”

However, when these emotions are not compartmentalized, they can encroach on other facets of life, often seeming to disrupt the actor’s psyche. This occurs as the actor delves into previous emotional experiences, be they joyful or traumatic. The psychological effects, like emotional fatigue, comes when suppressed or unresolved raw emotions are unburied to add to the character, not just from the employing personal emotions in performance. The question becomes whether the actor calls up resolved or unresolved emotions in their acting.

The psychological effects of method acting vary in intensity from individual to individual. Some common effects include;

Fatigue, or emotional fatigue, comes mainly when actors “create dissonance between their actions and their actual feelings.”. A mode of acting referred to as “surface acting” involves only changing one’s actions without altering the deeper thought processes. Method acting, when employed correctly, is mainly deep acting, or changing thoughts as well as actions, proven to generally avoid excessive fatigue. Surface acting is statistically “positively associated with a negative mood and this explains some of the association of surface acting with increased emotional exhaustion.” This negative mood that is created leads to fear, anxiety, feelings of shame and sleep deprivation.

Raw emotion or unresolved emotions conjured up for acting, may result in a sleep deprivation and the cyclical nature of the ensuing side effects. Sleep deprivation alone can lead to impaired function, causing some individuals to “acute episodes of psychosis.” Sleep deprivation initiates chemical changes in the brain that can lead to behavior similar to psychotic individuals.> These episodes can lead to more lasting psychological damage. In cases where raw emotion that has not been resolved, or traumas have been evoked before closure has been reached by the individual, the emotion can result in greater emotional instability and increased sense of anxiety, fear or shame.

The problem seen in method acting comes from the inability of actors to compartmentalize the emotions of the character from their own in daily life. Generally the actors who suffer personality changes and psychotic disorders already have some psychotic tendencies or are emotionally unstable. Those who have dissociative identity disorder “can’t recognize that the role isn’t theirs” and, even though these individuals appear normal, they have psychotic disorders that sometimes take months to identify. Dissociative identity disorder is a chemically based disorder that results from “high stress and trauma.” What these individuals experience psychologically can further detriment their chemical and physiological makeup.

  • Fatigue
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Shame
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Personality changes
  • Psychotic disorders.
  • Hamden, Raymond. “Clinical and Forensic Psychology”. Interview. Dubia Today. Arabian Radio Network. Dubai. 14 April 2010. Radio.
  • Konin. “Acting Emotions: Shaping Emotions on Stage.” Amsterdam University Press, 2000. 89-102.
  • Grandley. “When ‘The Show Must Go On.’: Surface Acting As Determinants of Emotional Exhaustion and Peer-Rated Service Delivery.” Academy of Management Journal. 46:1. 2001.
  • Judge, Timothy A., Woolf, Erin Fluegge, Hurst, Charlice. “Is Emotional Labor More Difficult for Some than for Others? A Multi-level, Experience-sampling Study.” Personnel Psychology. 2009.
  • Lealos. “10 Best Method Actors.” Break Media. N.p. Web. 2010.


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