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Playback Theatre: Effects on students’ views of aggression and empathy within a forensic context

Barbara A. Bornmann, Angela M. Crossman


The objectives of this study were twofold: to better understand urban children and adolescents’ views of aggression and empathy and how those views may change when exposed to a Playback Theatre intervention; and to measure students’ understanding of the criminal justice/court system through the impact of instructive material on their comprehension levels. In an urban middle school, fifth and eighth grade students were randomly assigned (within age and gender) to experience a Playback Theatre intervention (N=24) or to a video intervention control group (N=23). All of the students received instruction on the basics of the criminal justice system. Also, students in both groups received pre- and post-intervention testing, including a comprehension test of the criminal justice/court system, an aggression questionnaire and an empathy scale. Students in both groups showed a significant increase in comprehension levels of the criminal justice/court system between assessments. Also, students’ ratings of tolerance for aggression were significantly reduced after exposure to Playback Theatre, however, students’ empathy scores were not significantly affected. The intervention of Playback Theatre yielded qualitative responses from students indicating that better perspective taking might be the mechanism underlying the effects of the Playback Theatre experience.
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