Symposium on Performance Science by Taryn Oak from Attuned Psychology Adelaide. Photo by Jan Střecha on Unsplash

Insights from the 2019 International Symposium on Performance Science

August 28, 2019

Attuned Psychology has a focus on performance psychology, which is why I recently attended the 2019 International Symposium on Performance Science in Melbourne at the Conservatorium of Music. It was an insightful experience to learn from, discuss and debate all facets of performance with professionals, scientists and performers from around the globe.

Performance psychology is one of the many areas of study and practice within psychology. The American Psychological Association defines it as the application and study of psychological principles of human performance to help people:

  • consistently perform
  • in the upper range of their capabilities and
  • more thoroughly enjoy the performance process

At the symposium, topics high on the agenda included optimal performance, performance anxiety, perfectionism, and strategies to enhance or mitigate these performance constructs. Ultimately, the search for a comprehensive ‘performance toolkit’ continues …

A one size fits all?

The fact there isn’t a one size fits all approach for performance situations doesn’t dilute the fact that psychology has made a significant contribution to the performing arts.

It was evident at the performance science symposium that most psychological research to date has focused on the areas of dance, music, singing, and drama.

Performance-related strategies and skills that are similar to the mental skills training in sport psychology are covered (i.e. goal setting, motivation, focus and concentration, arousal control, self-talk, mental imagery, and pre-performance routines) that pursue a pathway towards sporting excellence.

Artistic vs sporting excellence

What about artistry attainment though? We still need to learn more about what is involved in the pursuit of artistic excellence in performing artists? In his keynote, Professor Zach Hambrick, from Michigan State University, explored the pursuit of expertise. In short, his research has debunked pop psychology myths that spruik 10,000 hours of practise may correlate with mastery and expertise status, suggesting it takes more than training and practice alone to explain individual differences in musical expertise, for example.

In the pursuit of technical and artistic excellence, other unhelpful behaviours have been noted to inhabit some performing artists for periods in their careers and/or vocations. Evidence-based treatments do exist for a variety of issues such as perfectionism, substance use, eating disorders, pain, injury, burnout, mood difficulties, career transition and occupational stress. The impact of such treatments continue to be evaluated and informed by the efforts of researchers, professionals and performers through collaborations across performance science and performing arts medicine. Where to now?

Well-being is everyone’s business

Well-being involves feeling good, functioning well and doing good.

The well-being literature and field of positive psychology offers important contributions to the mental health of artistic performers. A symposium presentation delivered by Professor Vella-Brodrick from the Centre of Positive Psychology, University of Melbourne, discussed innovative technology to deliver well-being strategies in educational settings to assist the performance of students in secondary schools.

A bridge between performance and positive psychology to improve mental health and well-being of performers is an example of possible future clinical application of evidence-based strategies in the performance world.

In the same week as the symposium, I was also fortunate to attend the World Congress on Positive Psychology in Melbourne. This consolidated for me, a concerted effort that is taking place to bring well-being science frameworks to workplaces, schools, sport and health in our global community.

I look forward to keeping abreast of contemporary and innovative methods to foster high performance experiences and heightened well-being for performers in the performing arts realm.

Personal stories are key

It is always enlightening and a privilege for me to hear personal accounts of the cognitive, physical, affective and social factors that constitute the performer experience.

There are such few opportunities for performers to discuss their common experiences however, which can ultimately leave performers feeling unsupported and largely left to their own devices to find their way forward towards optimal emotional and psychological states for performance.

A highlight for me at the symposium was listening to the personal accounts of musicians, actors and singers and how they prepare themselves for performances.

In my view, it is through hearing these personal accounts that inroads into evidence-based strategies to foster well-being and mental health for artistic performers can be explored and better understood.

Next steps in performance science? A collaborative focus for all

There is much to do in terms of improving access to evidence-based strategies and support to improve the mental health of artistic performers and performing artist educators.

There is also a need to further our understanding of what is involved with the attainment of expertise and artistic excellence in performers.

My attendance at the recent 2019 International Symposium and World Congress for Positive Psychology highlighted the importance of collaboration, sharing stories and cross-communication between disciplines in the advancement of performance science and performer well-being. My journey continues…

Curious to know more?

So, if you are a performer or you know of someone who is a singer, dancer, musician, acrobat and/or actor who may need help with being consistent in their artistic pursuits, OR are looking to reach their personal best OR have consistently been performing at their finest but are no longer enjoying themselves then booking an appointment with a performance psychologist may be able to help.

The psychologists at Attuned Psychology are oriented to the multi-faceted psychology of the performer and look forward to meeting with you to discuss a plan that can accommodate you in your performance roles.

Taryn Oak

Clinical Psychologist.


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