April 06, 2012

Petition for a Division of Entertainment Psychology

We believe the creation of an APA division devoted to the scholarly and practical study of the psychological aspects of the entertainment industry holds the promise of significant benefit to the field of psychology, our clients and society at large. The entertainment industry is a multi-billion dollar industry with numerous professional unions including the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) with 120,000 members; American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) with 70,000 members; and American Federation of Musicians (AFM) with 45,000 members. The child and adult members of these unions would benefit from a specialized division of psychological services. In addition, there are many actors, comedians, musicians, singers, dancers, theater actors, radio personalities, reality TV stars, beauty queens, virtual reality, and athletes who are unaffiliated with unions who will stand to benefit as well.

Practitioners, researchers, and students interested in Entertainment Psychology and Entertainment Therapy as legitimate disciplines will be served by the division. The awareness of entertainment psychology’s relevance is growing, as recently evidenced by Thalia R. Goldstien’s (2009) research, which indicated that acting training fosters strength in reading others’ mental states, feeling others’ feelings and regulating one’s own emotions in an adaptive manner. Goldstien (2009) stated, “We are all actors to some extent, trying out different roles as we interact with others” (p. 6). Similarly, Helga Noice and Tony Noice’s (2006) study of actors has produced results relevant to text comprehension, memory and cognitive aging. Their research abstracted the essence of acting and applied it to diverse undertakings, discovered optimal learning strategies for promoting healthy cognitive aging and addressed the implications of acting expertise on current theories of embodied cognition. Additional supporting research has been conducted by: Richard Ramsey and Antonia F. de C. Hamilton (2010); Daniel Nettle (2005); and Perviz Sawoski (2008).

This new division would comprise mental health and entertainment professionals, its mission being rooted in the recognition of the development of entertainment psychology as integral to the development and maintenance of entertainment and psychological well-being. We believe through a collaborative, organized effort, developing theory, research and evidence-based interventions will result in a rich addition to the science and profession of psychology. Entertainment Psychology is a multi-faceted domain that extends into numerous areas relevant to contemporary life and the field of psychology, including ego strength, behavioral development, memory and cognitive functioning, emotion regulation, personality and psychosocial development as well as traditional psychotherapy. The division seeks to more formally unite and serve these diverse but often related areas of interest by supporting the advancement of Entertainment Psychology research, education, training and practice.

An Entertainment Psychologist will develop expertise in helping all who may be impacted by the effects of the entertainment industry such as people with symptoms of cognitive and memory challenges and/or emotion regulation. For example Helga Noice and Tony Noice’s (2006) research has identified a process that may aide populations with an increased risk of cognitive decline; Thalia R. Goldstien’s (2009) research may aide populations with a diminished capacity for empathy and emotion regulation. An Entertainment Psychologist may also specialize in working with entertainers to help them identify challenges, work through afflictions, transition from and/or cope with roles and personas, manage pressures of idolization and condemnation from the public, help achieve child-developmental stages (for child-entertainers), set goals, facilitate the shift from stardom to mediocrity should their careers diminish as well as help improve overall performance and focus. For example, one may work with childhood stars that grow up struggling with child-developmental stages [e.g. River Phoenix, Corey Haim and Judith Barsi] and help them transition from a child-star to a healthy adult. An Entertainment Psychologist may employ many established therapy methods as well as specialized techniques tailored to the unique challenges of being an entertainer.

Most of us are familiar with the numerous tragic stories from the entertainment industry including those of: Marylyn Monroe, James Dean, Natalie wood, and Janis Joplin. More recent examples are River Phoenix, Anna Nicole Smith, Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. Entertainment professionals not only run into typical life circumstances that tax their emotional, mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing, but the unique pressures associated with their job may place additional strain on ones coping skills. As an example take the character in the movie Monster, which was based off a true story. When the actor integrated the character (Aileen) into her own personality, it may have been possible for her to be overwhelmed, not able to rid her psyche of the character’s traits. The previously mentioned integration may foster an environment for a state of emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual symptoms not to mention neurosis such as anxiety and/or depression. By working and collaborating with entertainers, psychologists will be able to learn more about how personas impact all people as well as understand many other aspects of the human experience. Therefore the best option to understanding the impact of the process of putting on a persona and the human experience is to learn from the ones who do it professionally.

Furthermore, not only do entertainers and athletes deal with the constant strain and obstacles of their profession, they are set up for struggles by the industry in which they work. Industry struggles being: beauty management, age constraints, gender discrimination and racial stereotyping. Nevertheless, the above obstacles are not exclusive to entertainers but rather an integral part of the human experience for all individuals. Therefore, through collaboration with entertainers for whom these issues are most impactful, we may apply what is learned to society as a whole. These obstacles could be considered strenuous and contributing factors to psychological symptoms. Additional aspects of entertainers work and lifestyles that need to be considered are lack of privacy, continually needing to question who they can trust, and the possibility of overzealous fans and media paparazzi stalking them.

Establishment of an Entertainment Psychology Division is congruent with the APA’s history of demonstrating leadership by addressing important emerging issues and is in alignment with the guiding principles of the American Psychological Association. Not only will the new division support and help entertainers it will also allow for achievement of a deeper understanding of human behavior. We appreciate your consideration of our petition to establish a division of Entertainment Psychology.


Rosemary ‘Mimi’ Marie Amaral (Founder)                              

Richard Carolan Ed.D.
Bryant L. Welch, J.D., Ph.D.
David Schroerlucke (Psy.D.)

Only APA Members and Fellows are eligible to sign a petition for a new division.

Goldstein, T. R. (2009). Psychological perspectives on acting. Psychology of Aesthetics, 3(1), 6-9. doi: 10.1037/a0014644

Moore, S., (1984). The stanislavski system:the professional training of actors. (2 ed.). New
York: Penguine Group

Nettle, D. (2006). Psychological profiles of professional actors. Science Direct, 40, 375-383. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2005.07.008

Noice, H., & Noice, T. (2006). What studies of actors and acting can tell us about memory andcognitive functioning. Association for psychological science, 15(1), 14-18.

Ramsey, R., & Hamilton, A. F. (2010). Understanding actors and object-goals in the human
brain. euroimage, 50, 1142-1147. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.12.124