It is generally assumed that a professional actor learns a role by committing the words to memory line by line or sentence by sentence. However, a pilot study indicated that this is not so. The research reported here is concerned with specifying the mental processes that professional actors employ in the course of learning theatrical scripts. Twenty‐eight professional actors and 28 novices were assigned either to a gist or a rote condition. The former was designed to reveal the strategies actually used by actors to learn lengthy texts. The latter was designed to require subjects to learn text by repetition with as little contribution from semantic analysis as possible with meaningful material. All subjects were given identical six‐page scenes from a realistic play. Two measures were used: elaborated recall and summarization. Analysis of elaborated recall protocols show that actors construct far more elaborations than novices, and that the great majority of these elaborations concern how the assigned character actively affects or is affected by another character. Results indicate that actors approach the learning of complex material by adopting the assigned character's perspective, and by actively asking questions in order to infer that character's plan. Summarization results indicate that actors and novices construct different mental representations of the same text. Actors were more likely to summarize the scene as an unfolding process rather than a fixed entity. Also, they tended to ignore the temporal ordering of the text, implying the operation of a plan structure during encoding and retrieval. Furthermore, both expertise and a strategy based on elaboration appeared to encourage the drawing of inferences. This is shown by an increase in the number of subjects (as a function either of strategy or expertise) who included the unstated but implied resolution of the scene in their summaries.
Cognitive Science - A Multidisciplinary Journal – Wiley
Published: Jul 1, 1991
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