New play to give psychologists insights into children’s responses to violence

Study concerns the reactions of children to witnessing violence in their community

A research project about children’s reactions to witnessing violent events, led by developmental psychologist Dr Natasha Kirkham, Department of Psychological Sciences, and colleagues at King’s College London, has resulted in a new play for primary school pupils aged 9 to 11. The play What the Thunder Said will tour the UK this March.

In February and March 2013, Dr Kirkham and her colleagues, together with playwright Ed Harris and Theatre Centre, conducted workshops at primary schools in ten inner-city areas with high violent crime rates. Ed Harris then used the material from these workshops to write What the Thunder Said.

By conducting pre- and post-play questionnaires with children, parents and teachers the team of psychologists aim to identify ways that productions such as this might help children to deal with feelings associated with witnessing violence in their community, on television or in computer games.

Dr Kirkham said: “It’s thrilling to see What the Thunder Said go into production. An important aspect of our study concerns the reaction of children to the themes of the play. As developmental psychologists it is essential we study the impact on children of witnessing violence in their community and in the media, and how a piece of theatre might change the attitudes of pupils, teachers and parents.”

By the end of the 18 month long project the researchers from Birkbeck and King’s will have gathered evidence from over 5,000 children, teachers and parents about the role of creative expression in changing responses to, and understanding of, violent behaviour. The collated data, research and resulting documentary will be drawn upon by lead educationalists, academics and parents.