Skip to main content

Knowing Me, Knowing You: Autism, Kinesthetic Empathy and Applied Performance

Shaughnessy, Nicola (2011) Knowing Me, Knowing You: Autism, Kinesthetic Empathy and Applied Performance. In: Reynolds, Deirdre and Reason, Matthew, eds. Kinesthetic Empathy in Creative and Cultural Practices. Intellect, Bristol, pp. 33-50. ISBN 978-1-84150-491-9. (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:31539)

The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided.


This essay explores a developing interdisciplinary dialogue between performers, psychologists, neuroscientists and health practitioners. The essay outlines the theory and practice emerging from practice based research which subsequently secured an award for innovation and a large AHRC grant. This is the first chapter in an edited collection arising from an AHRC funded project at Manchester University: ‘Watching Dance: Kinesthetic Empathy.’ This is an interdisciplinary book, using recent research in cognitive neuroscience to explore the relations between performers and spectators in dance, theatre, film and music. My account is informed by recent discoveries in cognitive neuroscience, particularly mirror neuron theory which has significant implications for applied theatre and performance. There is a growing body of evidence that the mirror neuron system is involved in understanding intentions, in emotions and empathy, in language, imitation and theory of mind. My research uses mirror neuron theory to explore the relations between performer/practitioner and participants in applied theatre activities in social, community and educational contexts. By way of example, the paper focuses on an interdisciplinary collaboration exploring drama, performance and digital media as interventions for autistic spectrum conditions.

Autism is a condition associated with a ‘triad of impairments:’ social interaction, communication and imagination. Recent neurological research points towards deficits in areas of the brain associated with empathy and the imagination. Current interventions have shifted from traditional behavioural to contemporary behavioural and social pragmatic practices, particularly in terms of ‘early intervention’ with pre-schoolers. For young autistic children, emotional and intellectual development is dependent upon interventionist strategies to address the ‘deficits’ identified in the triad of impairments with particular attention to areas of joint attention, eye contact, symbolic behaviour and initiation of social contact. These interventions focus on the acquisition of social communication and academic skills. The Kent research project, however, addresses one of the fundamental diagnostic factors which distinguishes autism from other related conditions in terms of the imagination. The project draws upon recent research in cognitive neuroscience, particularly mirror neurons, to explore the possibilities of interventions which directly engage the imagination, creativity and symbolisation through the practices of drama and performance. The interventions discussed are designed to help autistic children to compensate for the ‘triad of impairments’ through participation in interactive drama based activities which are experiential and physical; the activities create alternative mediated realities in order to help the participants to develop embodied understanding and to encourage emotional engagement.

Item Type: Book section
Additional information: Full text not available due to copyright restrictions
Uncontrolled keywords: autism, empathy, cognition, mirror neurons, puppetry, kinesethetic
Subjects: N Visual Arts > NX Arts in general
P Language and Literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
Depositing User: Nicola Shaughnessy
Date Deposited: 11 Oct 2012 14:21 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2021 10:09 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.