July 2021

New Research Shows How Improv Helps Calo Students’ Get Their Brain “Online”

Mary DeMichele. Improv Facilitator & Training Consultant, Calo Programs

Lake Ozark, Mo, June 7, 2021- After four years, the rapid positive state changes experienced by both staff and students who practice improv at Calo Programs can now be understood neurobiologically. Thanks to Calo's Neurotherapies Department, Mary DeMichele, creator of One Rule Improv and Scott Kuenneke, Director of NeuroTherapies at Calo Programs have shown improv's ability to improve brain function in teens who suffer the effects of Complex Developmental Trauma. These neurobiological changes may help to create opportunities for joy and healing for individuals, communities, and families.

Published in the open-source, peer reviewed journal, NeuroRegulation, and already featured in Forbes, Psychology Today and in the documentary, Act Social: Using Yes, And to Heal the World from Within, starring Colin Mochrie of "Whose Line Is It Anyway," the results of this study showed that, "Improv increased the functional connectivity of the brain, which means that different areas of the brain were better integrated and communicating more efficiently with each other." 

Using qEEG caps to monitor brain waves of 28 teens before and after participating in 20 minutes of improv games, DeMichele and Kuenneke found that,

"Improv activates the prefrontal cortex, moving one from a mental state of fear and protection to where they are better able to engage cognitively, behaviorally, physically, and emotionally. In other words, improv put the brain 'online,' allowing a person to better engage in learning, relationships, therapy, and life."

While many people are familiar with short-form improv as a comedic art, because of the many benefits and the simultaneous skill development it offers, improv is also applied in many industries around the world. Often misunderstood as similar to stand-up comedy or theater, it is instead a separate art form built on its unique frame of "Yes, and". 

This rule of "yes, and" prompts each player to unconditionally accept each other's offers and add to it. This leads to not only shared laughter, but "Yes, and" creates a more integrated and balanced neurosystem which restores the course for normal development and the ability to form healthy, connected relationships. 

DeMichele hopes this study will inspire future research on the impact that improv has on the brain, as well as promote innovative uses of improv to help others better engage in learning, healing, and life. 

For more information about the intervention used in this study and at Calo since 2017, visit  OneRuleImprov.com or email Mary DeMichele at [email protected]

For information about improv research at Calo Programs, contact Scott Kuenneke, Neurotherapies Director through email at [email protected]

Research Citation:

DeMichele, M., &  Kuenneke, S. (2021). Short-form, comedy improv affects the functional connectivity in the brain of adolescents with complex developmental trauma as measured by qEEG: A single group pilot study. NeuroRegulation, 8(1), 2'13. https://doi.org/10.15540/nr.8.1.2