Thalia R Goldstein

Thalia R Goldstein

Thalia R Goldstein

Associate Professor

Developmental Psychology; Social Cognitive Development; Social and Emotional Learning; Play, Pretend, Imagination; Theatre, Drama and The Arts

Dr. Thalia R. Goldstein is Associate Professor of Applied Developmental Psychology. Her work focuses on children's developing social and emotional skills, particularly theory of mind, empathy, and emotional control and regulation, and how such skills intersect with children's engagement in pretend play, theatre, drama, and other imaginative activities. She directs the PLAY Lab (Play, Learning, Arts, and Youth Lab), which conducts research that looks both at the effects of engaging in pretend play and theatre on children's social-emotional skills, and how children understand and learn social information in fictional worlds. She is also the co-director of the National Endowment for the Arts Research Lab, the Mason Arts Research Center (MasonARC). 

Dr. Goldstein received a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology in 2010 from Boston College. She completed post-doctoral training at Yale University from 2010-2012. Following this, she moved to Pace University, where she was assistant professor from 2013-2017 before joining Mason in Fall of 2017. Dr. Goldstein's research has been funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, The John Templeton Foundation, the Caplan Foundation, Arts Connection, and the Department of Homeland Security. Her papers have appeared in Child Development, Trends in Cognitive Science, Journal of Cognition and Development, and Developmental Science, among others. Dr. Goldstein serves on the editorial boards of the journals Empirical Studies in the Arts, Creativity Research Journal, and Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, she is the current co-editor of the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, and a Fellow of Division 10 of the American Psychological Association.

Current Research

Dr. Goldstein's current research and interests include projects on:

1) What implicit and explicit teaching strategies the very best acting teachers use with high school students to improve their social and emotional knowledge;

2) How varying levels of embodiment and representation improve children's learning and retention of social and factual information in pretend play;

3) How acting (versus reading) affects children's understanding of mental and emotional states;

4) How moral reasoning may be different for children in the pretend versus real world;

5) How video game play may be associated with creativity;

6) How children understand, and parents explain, Santa Claus and other cultural characters;

7) How dance experience is associated with affective theory of mind;

For more information on Dr. Goldstein's research, please visit her lab website (

Selected Publications

*denotes student

Goldstein, T.R. (2024). Why Theatre Education Matters: Understanding the Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Benefits. New York: Teachers College Press. 

Goldstein, T. R., *Thompson, B. N., & *Kanumuru, P. (2022). Do embodiment and fictionality affect young children’s learning?. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology213, 105275.

Troxler, R., Goldstein, T.R., Holochwost, S., Beekman, C., McKeel, S., & Shami, M. (2022). Deeper engagement with live theater increases middle school students’ empathy and social perspective taking. Applied Developmental Science, 1-21.

*Stutesman, M. G., Havens, J., & Goldstein, T. R. (2022). Developing creativity and other 21st century skills through theater classes. Translational Issues in Psychological Science8(1), 24.

*Thompson, B., & Goldstein, T.R. (2019). Disentangling Pretend Play Measurement: Defining the Essential Elements and Developmental Progression of Pretense. Developmental Review, 52, 24-41.

Goldstein, T. R., & Lerner, M. D. (2018). Dramatic pretend play games uniquely improve emotional control in young children. Developmental science21(4), e12603.

Goldstein, T. R. (2017). Live theatre as exception and test case for experiencing negative emotions in art. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 40.

Goldstein, T. R., Lerner, M. D., & Winner, E. (2017). The arts as a venue for developmental science: Realizing a latent opportunity. Child development88(5), 1505-1512.

*Panero, M.E. Weisberg, D.S, *Black, J., Goldstein, T.R., Barnes, J., Winner, E., Brownell, H. (2016). Does reading a single passage of literary fiction really improve theory of mind? An attempt at replication. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(5), e46.

Goldstein, T. R., & Woolley, J. (2016). Ho! Ho! Who? Parent promotion of belief in and live encounters with Santa Claus. Cognitive Development39, 113-127.

Goldstein, T.R., & Winner, E. (2012). Enhancing empathy and theory of mind. Journal of Cognition and Development, 13, 19-37.

Goldstein, T.R. & Bloom, P. (2011). The mind onstage: Why cognitive scientists should study acting. Trends in Cognitive Science, 15, 141-142.

Goldstein, T.R. (2009). Psychological perspectives on acting. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 3, 6-9.

Expanded Publication List

*denotes student

Goldstein, T. R., *Stutesman, M., & Thompson, B. (2022). Moving with puppets: Preschool children’s gesture with puppets during pretense. Cognitive Development63, 101198.

*Thompson, B. N., & Goldstein, T. R. (2022). Observing the Developmental Progression of Pretend Play across the Preschool Years. Journal of Cognition and Development, 1-21.

*Young, D. L., Rosenthal, L., & Goldstein, T. R. (2022). Psychosocial change across a drum corps season. Psychology of Music, 03057356221097781.

Holochwost, S.J., Goldstein, T.R., & Wolf, D.P. (2021). Delineating the Benefits of Arts Education for Children’s Socioemotional Development. Frontiers in Psychology.

*Chlebuch, N., Goldstein T. R., & Weisberg, D.S. (2021). Fact or Fiction? Investigating the Relationship between Reading and Improvement of Social Skills. Scientific Study of Language.

McDonald, B., Goldstein T.R., & Kanske, P.  (2020) Could Acting Training Improve Social Cognition and Emotional Control? Frontiers in Psychology.

Goldstein, T.R., *Young D.L. & *Thompson, B. (2020) It’s All Critical: Acting Teachers’ Beliefs about Theatre Classes. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 775. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00775

*Thompson, B., & Goldstein, T.R. (2019). Children Learn From Both Embodied and Passive Pretense: A Replication and Extension. Child Development, 91, 1364–1374.

Goldstein, T.R. Lerner, M.D., Paterson, S., Jaggi, L., Toub, T.S., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R.M. (2019). Stakeholder Perceptions of the Effects of a Public School-Based Theatre Program for Children with ASD. Journal of Learning Through the Arts. 

Goldstein, T. R., & *Alperson, K. (2019). Dancing bears and talking toasters: A content analysis of supernatural elements in children’s media. Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

Kou, X., Konrath, S. & Goldstein, T.R. (2020). The Relationship among Different Types of Arts Engagement, Empathy, and Prosocial behavior. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts,

DeBettingnes, B. & Goldstein, T. R. (2020). Improvisational Theatre Classes Improve Children’s Self-Concept. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.

Celume, M.-P., Goldstein, T.R., Besançon, M., & Zenasni, F. (in press) Developing Children’s Socio-Emotional Competencies Through Drama Pedagogy Training. An Experimental Study on Theory of Mind and Collaborative Behavior. Europe's Journal of Psychology.

Kapitany, R., Nelson, N., Goldstein, T. R., & Burdett, E. (2020). The Child’s Pantheon: Children’s Rational Belief Structure in Real and Fictional Characters. PLoS One.

Kapstein, A. & Goldstein, T.R. (2019). Developing Wonder: Teaching Theatre for the Very Young through Collaboration with Developmental Psychology. Youth Theatre Journal, 33, 52-69. Doi 10.1080/08929092.2019.1580648

Arora, Prerna G., Levine, J. and Goldstein, T.R. "School psychologists’ interprofessional collaboration with medical providers: An initial examination of training, preparedness, and current practices." Psychology in the Schools 56.4 (2019): 554-568.

Goldstein, T. R. (2018). Developing a Dramatic Pretend Play Game Intervention. American Journal of Play10(3), 290-308.

Sawyer, J. E., & Goldstein, T. (2019). Can Guided Play and Storybook Reading Promote Children’s Drawing Development?. Empirical Studies of the Arts37(1), 32-59.

Goldstein, T. R. & Filipe, A. (2017). The interpreted mind: Understanding acting. Review of General Psychology.

Ershadi, M., Goldstein, T.R., Pochedly, J., & Russell, J.A. (2017). Facial expressions as performances in mime. Cognition and Emotion. 1-10. DOI: 10.1080/02699931.2017.1317236

Goldstein, T.R. & Levy, A. (2017). The constricted muse: Acting and creativity. Cambridge Handbook of Creativity Across Domains, J. Kaufman, V. Glaveanu & J. Baer, Eds. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Panero, M.E. Weisberg, D.S, Black, J., Goldstein, T.R., Barnes, J., Winner, E., Brownell, H. (2017). No Support for the Claim that Literary Fiction Uniquely and Immediately Improves Theory of Mind: A Reply to Kidd and Castano’s Commentary on Panero, Weisberg, Black, Goldstein, Barnes, Brownell, & Winner (2016). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 112, e5-e8.

Arora, P., Kelly, J, & Goldstein, T.R. (2016). Current and future school psychologists’ preparedness to work with LGBT students: Role of Education and Gay-Straight Alliances. Psychology in the Schools, 53, 722-735.

Panero, M.E., Goldstein, T.R., Rosenberg, R., Hughes, H., & Winner, E. (2016). Do actors posses traits associated with high hypnotizability? Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, 10, 233-239.

Goldstein, T.R. & Bloom, P. (2015). Characterizing Characters: How children make sense of realistic acting. Cognitive Development, Special Issue: Cognizing the Unreal, 34, 39-50. doi:10.1016/j.cogdev.2014.12.001

Feldman, D., Ward, E., Handley, S. & Goldstein, T. R. (2015). Evaluating drama therapy in school settings: A case study of the ENACT program. Drama Therapy Review, 1, 127-145.

Goldstein, T.R. (2015). Predictors of engagement in and transfer from acting training. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, 9, 266-273.

Goldstein, T.R. & Bloom, P. (2015). Is it Oscar-worthy? Children’s metarepresentational understanding of acting. PLOS One 10(3). E0119604, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0119604

Goldstein, T.R., Tamir, M., & Winner, E. (2013). Expressive suppression and acting. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, 7, 191-196.

Goldstein, T.R. & Winner. E. (2012). Sympathy for a character’s plight: Sex differences in response to theatre. Empirical Studies in the Arts, 30, 129-141.

Goldstein, T.R. (2011). Correlations among social-cognitive skills in adolescents involved in acting (vs. arts) classes. Mind, Brain and Education, 5, 97-103.

Goldstein, T.R. & Winner, E. (2010-2011). Engagement in role play, pretense and acting classes predict advanced theory of mind skill in middle childhood. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 30, 249-258.

Goldstein, T.R. & Winner, E. (2009). Living in alternative and inner worlds: Early signs of acting talent. Creativity Research Journal, 21, 117-124.

Goldstein, T.R. (2009). The pleasure of pure unadulterated sadness: Experiencing sorrow in fiction, nonfiction and in our own lives. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 3, 232-237.

Goldstein, T.R., Wu, K. & Winner, E. (2009-2010) Actors are experts in theory of mind but not empathy. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 29, 115-133.

Dalebroux, A., Goldstein, T.R., & Winner, E. (2008). Short-term mood repair through art- making: Attention redeployment is more effective than venting. Motivation and Emotion, 32(4), 288-295. 

Grants and Fellowships

2018-2026. National Endowment for the Arts: ArtsLabs. The Mason Arts Research Center.

2021-2022. Wake Forest University, The Science of Honesty, The John Templeton Foundation. When Honesty is Discouraged: Understanding Culturally-Endorsed Parental Lies.

2021-2023. National Endowment for the Arts. Positive Effects of Marching Arts on Feelings of Belongingness, Social Bonding, and Inclusivity for Minority Students.

2020. The Alan Alda Center for Science Communication. Acting Techniques Study. 

2019. National Science Foundation, Science of Learning, SBE Directorate. Co-PI. Conference “Learning through Play and Imagination” Proposal ID 1940560.

2017-2019. National Endowment for the Arts: Art Works. Theatrical Thinking: The Habits of Mind Taught in Theatre Classes. #17-980096

2017-2018. Caplan Foundation for Early Childhood. Puppets, Dolls, and Costumes:
Embodiment and Representation when Constructing Knowledge through Play.

2015-2018. Arts Connection. Theatre in School to Promote Youth with Autism.

2013-2016. The John Templeton Foundation. Training Empathy and Compassion through Engagement with Fictional Worlds #47592

2010-2012. National Science Foundation Minority Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. 

Courses Taught

PSYC 211- LifeSpan Development

PSYC 335- Psychology of Creativity and Innovation

PSYC 704- LifeSpan Development

PSYC 669- Social and Emotional Development

PSYC 707 - Emotional Bases of Behavior (Graduate Level)

PSYC 592/892 - Learning and Development Through Play and Imagination


PostDoctoral Fellow, Yale University, 2010-2012.

PhD, Boston College, 2010.

MA, Boston College, 2007.

BA, Cornell University, 2002.

Recent Presentations

Weisberg, D.S., Goldstein, T.R., & Schatz, J. (March 2022) Society for Research in Child Development, Learning Through Play and Imagination Special Topics Meeting.

Goldstein, T.R. (2021, September). Teaching Body Awareness and Self Understanding Through Acting Classes in Adolescence. Presented as part of the symposium Self and body awareness in theatre and dance practice, at the XXVI International Association for Empirical Aesthetics, Virtual Conference, London, UK.

Goldstein, T.R. (2021, August). Embodiment and Containment as Pathways to Wellbeing Through Theatre. Presented as part of the symposium: “Creativity, Stress and Resilience: A Multiple Levels-of-Analysis Perspective” at the American Psychological Association Annual Convention (Division 10), Virtual Conference, San Diego, CA.

Goldstein, T.R. (2021). Coughing Santa, Tooth Fairy Glitter, Presents from Elves: Children’s Beliefs and Skepticism Towards Fictional Characters. Society for Research in Child Development, (with Candice Mills, Rohan Kapitany, and Jessica Sullivan, Jacqueline Woolley, Discussant). Online Conference.

Goldstein, T.R. (2020, August). Invited Participant, Cognitive Futures in Theatre Conference.

*Thompson, B. & Goldstein, T. R. (2020, June). Pretend play: Novel measurement strategy to capture its developmental progression. Poster virtually presented at The Administration for Children and Families’ National Research Conference on Early Childhood, Arlington, VA

*Stutesman, M., Goldstein, T. (2020, August). Children’s theatre and 21st century skills: Longitudinal analysis of skill growth and variance in teacher ratings. Poster to be presented at the American Psychological Association Annual Convention, Washington, DC, USA.

Goldstein, T.R. & Young, D.*. (2019, August). Theatrical Thinking: A Mixed Methods Study of Teacher Perceptions and Actual Classroom Strategies. American Psychological Association Annual Convention, Chicago, IL.

Kou, X., Konrath, S., & Goldstein, T.R. (2019, August). Arts engagement, prosocial traits, and prosocial behaviors. American Psychological Association Annual Convention, Chicago, IL.

Goldstein, T.R., *Thompson, B. (2019, July). The Role of Embodiment in Learning and Understanding Pretend Play: A Replication and Extension. Poster presented at the Guided Playful Learning Workshop at the Cognitive Science Society Conference. Montreal, Canada. *Poster Award Winner.

*Thompson, B. & Goldstein, T. R.  (2019, April) Pretend play: A systematic review of definitions, components, and measurement. Poster presented at the Society for Research in Child Development. Baltimore, MD

*Thompson, B. & Goldstein, T. R.  (2019, April) Embodiment and Representation when Constructing Knowledge through Play—A Registered Replication and Extension. Poster presented at the Society for Research in Child Development. Baltimore, MD.

*Goldstein, T. R & *Thompson, B. &(2019, April) The Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Skills Taught in an Adolescent Theatre Classroom. Poster presented at the Society for Research in Child Development. Baltimore, MD.

*Thompson, B. & Goldstein, T. R. (2018, November).  Pretend play in early childhood programs: A case for evidence-based program implementation and researcher-practitioner partnerships.  Poster presented at Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, Fall Research Conference, Washington, D.C.

Goldstein, T. R. (2018, November). Arts Education in the United States: National Education Policies for Arts Education and Studies on the Impact of Arts Education Experiences for Youth Development Using Cross-Sectional, Longitudinal, and Randomized Control Methods. Discussant. Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, Research Conference. Washington, DC.

Goldstein, T.R. (2018, September). Learning from Two National Endowment for the Arts Research Labs. Arts Education Partnership Annual Convening. Indianapolis, Indiana.

Goldstein, T.R. (2018, August). Acting and Pretending: The Effects of Embodied Imagination on Social Skills.  As part of the Symposium: Engaging the Body 2020: Setting an Embodiment Agenda in Psychology, American Psychological Association, Annual Convention, Division 10, San Francisco, CA.

Goldstein, T. R. & *Thompson, B. (2018, August). Ensemble building within youth theater programs: Alignment of research and practice. American Psychological Association, Annual Convention, Division 10, San Francisco, CA.

*Oberndorf, M. & Goldstein, T.R. (2018, August) Creating, maintaining, and releasing character: predicting burnout in actors. Poster presented at the American Psychological Association.

*Young, D., Rosenthal, L., & Goldstein, T.R. (2018, August). Psychosocial Trajectories of Change Across A Drum Corps Marching Season. Poster presented at the American Psychological Assocaition.

*Thompson, B. & Goldstein, T. R. (2018, May). Ensemble Building in Educational Contexts: What Can We Learn from Theater Instruction? Poster presented at the Association for Psychological Science, Annual Convention, San Francisco, CA

Paterson, S. J., Lerner, M. D., Goldstein, T. R., Toub, T. S., Golinkoff, R., &  Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2018, May). Acting out in Public School: How a Theatre Program Can Impact Imitation Skills in Children with ASDPoster presented at the International Society for Autism Research Annual Meeting, Rotterdam, Netherlands.   

Goldstein, T.R. (2018, January). Explanation and disbelief in children’s understanding of live versions of fictional characters. Poster presented at the Budapest CEU Conference on Cognitive Development, Budapest, Hungary.

Goldstein, T.R. (2017, August). Imagination, Methods, Measures, and Achievements. Discussant for the symposium: The power of imagination: building emotion and creativity skills through art and play interventions. American Psychological Association, Annual Convention, Division 10, Washington DC.

Goldstein, T. R. (2017, May). Meeting Superman and Cinderella: Children’s Judgments of Live Versions of Fictional TV Characters. As part of the symposium: Reality Versus Fantasy: Fiction Exposure and Real-World Understanding. Association for Psychological Science Annual Convention, Boston, MA.

*Boyle, A. & Goldstein, T.R. (2017, April). Interactive Block Play and Spatial Skill Development . Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Convention. Austin, TX.

In the Media

Ongoing: Blog for (

Featured and quoted in The Washington Post (January 10, 2023):

Work featured on NPR’s Hidden Brain “You 2.0: Empathy Gym.”

Society for Research in Child Development Scholar-in-Residence.

Interviewed and quoted for Pacific Standard Article “Should Animals Win Acting Oscars? A Pacific Standard Investigation” (January 3, 2019).

Research feature by Child Trends (December 21, 2018)

Research on Dramatic Pretend Play Games featured on Columbia University and University of Michigan’s “Research Connections” newsletter. (October, 2018).

Interviewed and quoted in the New York Times on Empirical Research in the Arts  (July 8, 2018)

Interviewed for Culture File Pod, Lyric FM, Dublin, Ireland (June 2, 2018).

Interviewed for Le Petit Mort issue on empathy. (April 2, 2018) Psychological aspects of television and movie spoilers.  (February 12, 2018)

Science (February 6, 2018)

CNN: Children’s understanding of Santa Claus (December 13, 2017).

Questions of Realness (August, 2017). Blog for Junkyard of the Mind. The effects of living space comparison (August 19, 2017).

Vice Magazine: Santa Claus. (March 25, 2017).

“” (Danish online magazine) interview on Theory of Mind and Literature (January, 2017).

The Atlantic. “Reading Literature Won’t Give you Superpowers” (December, 2016)

Time Magazine: Theory of Mind and Literature (October 28, 2016)

 “Brainwaves Video Anthology” series. (July 25, 2016).;

New York Magazine blog “The Science of Us”. (July 21, 2016). “A Kid’s World Is a Pleasing, Confusing Mash-up of Magic and Reality”

Articulate with Jim Cotter (July 7, 2016). WHYY, Philadelphia.

Creating their own Worlds: Arts and Learning. (May, 2016). Blog for The Brookings Institute.

Interviewed for Mente &Cervello (Mind/Scientific American, Italian edition) (January 14, 2016).

Featured in Backstage Magazine, (May 14, 2015). “How not to Psych yourself out pre-audition”.

Featured on “All About Psychology” website (March 3, 2015).

Interviewed on the Leonard Lopate show, WNYC, 93.9. (January 16, 2015). “Inside the Mind of an Actor”

 “How Actors Create Emotions: A Problematic Psychology” (March, 2014) for The Atlantic Health. 

“Why we love big fighting robots”. (July 13, 2013). The Culture Blog, Esquire Magazine.

 “Scientific Explanations for Why Spoilers are so Horrible” (March 21, 2013) The Atlantic

“People you should know”: Radio/Podcast (February, 2013)

 “Why She Cries at Movies, While He Snores: New research finds men and women feel sympathy for fictional characters for different reasons.” (September, 2012) Pacific Standard Magazine ( *Picked up by

 “Using Theater to Teach Social Skills: Researchers document improvements for children with autism” (January, 2012) Harvard Education Letter

Dissertations Supervised

Megan G. Stutesman, Social Cognitive Development and Children’s Engagement in Dance: A Mixed Methods Study (2024)

DaSean Young, Friendship Network and Wellbeing Dynamics: Exploring the Role of Selection, Influence, and Cross-Race Connections Among Emerging Adult Marching Band Members (2023)

Brittany Nicole Thompson, Pretend Play Across the Preschool Years: Defining and Observing Its Developmental Progression (2020)