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Performance pragmatics, neuroscience and evolution

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This paper addresses the question question: How do individuals affect others cognitively and emotionally through performance? Performance here is broadly defined as purposeful enactment or display behavior carried out in front of an audience. Following Alfred Sch├╝tz, Erving Goffman, Deborah Tannen and others, the paper posits that performance works through the creation of behavior that is embedded in cognitive “frames” that determine the symbolic interpretation of events. The framed event allows the performer to stimulate the emotions of the audience through pragmatically determined communication in a psychologically protected environment. Both performer and audience utilize the natural human ability to predict the emotional states of others, currently known as Theory of Mind, in order to generate and feel these emotions in an act of co-creation of experience. It is posited that performance has evolutionary value in allowing humans to practice the experience of emotions, and to create group solidarity.
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Keywords: Theory of Mind; cognition; emotion; evolution; frame; performance; pragmatic communication; pragmatics

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 13, 2010

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