Dramatic action: A theater-based paradigm for analyzing human interactions

Yuvalal Liron, Noam Raindel, Uri Alon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Existing approaches to describe social interactions consider emotional states or use ad-hoc descriptors for microanalysis of interactions. Such descriptors are different in each context thereby limiting comparisons, and can also mix facets of meaning such as emotional states, short term tactics and long-term goals. To develop a systematic set of concepts for second-by-second social interactions, we suggest a complementary approach based on practices employed in theater. Theater uses the concept of dramatic action, the effort that one makes to change the psychological state of another. Unlike states (e.g. emotions), dramatic actions aim to change states; unlike long-term goals or motivations, dramatic actions can last seconds. We defined a set of 22 basic dramatic action verbs using a lexical approach, such as 'to threaten'-the effort to incite fear, and 'to encourage'-the effort to inspire hope or confidence. We developed a set of visual cartoon stimuli for these basic dramatic actions, and find that people can reliably and reproducibly assign dramatic action verbs to these stimuli. We show that each dramatic action can be carried out with different emotions, indicating that the two constructs are distinct. We characterized a principal valence axis of dramatic actions. Finally, we re-analyzed three widely-used interaction coding systems in terms of dramatic actions, to suggest that dramatic actions might serve as a common vocabulary across research contexts. This study thus operationalizes and tests dramatic action as a potentially useful concept for research on social interaction, and in particular on influence tactics.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0193404
Number of pages18
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
StatePublished - 8 Mar 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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