Psychology professor leads lunchtime theatre

In front of a spellbound audience, the International Theatre of Malmö performed during the lunch break at the Pufendorf Institute. Artistic director of the company is Etzel Cardeña, Professor of Psychology in Lund specialising in hypnosis and parapsychology.

When Etzel Cardeña studied psychology at university in Mexico City in the 1970s, he financed his studies by acting.

“Nowadays it’s the other way round. I finance my interest in the theatre by working as a Professor of Psychology!” he says.

For just over a year he has been the artistic director of the small company the International Theatre of Malmö. They meet and perform together in Lund and Malmö. At the moment they are putting on plays by Vaclav Havel. Later in the year they will perform Strindberg in English. The idea of having lunchtime theatre at the Pufendorf Institute came about when Etzel Cardeña heard that the Institute was keen to host cultural events in its beautiful premises. String quartets, jazz concerts and improvisations have been on the calendar so far this year. Now, thanks to Etzel Cardeña, theatre has joined the list.

However, even if the production at the Pufendorf Institute was about Etzel Cardeña’s private interest in the theatre, there is also a link between theatre and his research. In a number of research articles he has written about the links between acting, hypnosis, shamanism and the placebo effect. In his view, the line between acting and perceived reality can sometimes be very fine.

“Today, psychologists are conducting research on phenomena that actors have long been aware of”, says Etzel Cardeña.

A famous example is Philip Zimbardo’s prison experiment, where the participants got so immersed in their roles as guards and prisoners that the experiment had to be stopped. Another example is from Paul Ekman, who mapped how we are influenced by facial expressions. We now know that we are influenced and become happier if we smile often and become sad if we are surrounded by people with depressed facial expressions.

Sune Sunesson is the new director of the interdisciplinary Pufendorf Institute and took the initiative for the introduction of cultural events at the institute alongside innovative research groups.
“We think there is too little collaboration between the normal faculties and the Faculty of Fine and Performing Arts in Malmö”, he says.

“This could be a way to develop more collaborations.”

He explains that there are plans to start a research group at the Pufendorf Institute with researchers in musicology, drama and cognitive science. The idea is that they will spend their time studying improvisations and what happens in the brain when we improvise.

Text: Ulrika Oredsson


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