The neuroscience of music and its applications to cognitive change have a well-established history, having now been studied for over fifty years. More recently, a small but growing number of researchers are turning their attention to dance. Dance provides a powerful model system for in-depth investigation of how action and perception links are established in the human brain and how specialised skill learning sculpts these circuits. Over the past several years, my colleagues and I have developed a research program to address how experience shapes perception using a number of different dance learning and perception paradigms. I will discuss findings from several of these studies that explore how an observer’s physical, visual, social or affective experience with a complex movement influences perception at brain and behavioural levels. This research capitalizes upon recent advances in neuroscientific methods to advance understanding of not only the cerebral phenomena associated with complex action learning and observation, but also the neural underpinnings of aesthetic appreciation when watching dance. The implications of this work for learning, embodiment, and art appreciation will be considered in turn.
Emily S. Cross is Professor of Social Neuroscience and dancer based at Bangor University in North Wales, where she directs the Social Brain in Action Laboratory (www.soba-lab.com). Through her research, she uses dance, gymnastics, contortion and robots in combination with brain scanning and training paradigms to explore how we learn and perceive complex actions, and how experience shapes perception from early childhood through to old age. Prior and current funders of her research include the National Institutes of Health, Volkswagen Foundation, Economic and Social Research Council, Ministry of Defense and European Research Council.