Perception Action and Cognition

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Research Workshop on Dance and Cognitive Neurosciences
07.01.2009 - 07.01.2009
Franks Room at the Wellcome Collection Conference - London
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Organizers: Larry Parsons and Frank Pollick

An all-day interdisciplinary workshop to explore the neural, behavioural and evolutionary basis of dance will be held as a satellite meeting to the winter EPS meeting.  The goal of the workshop is to share ongoing research, identify common and complementary approaches, and highlight unresolved goals. The themes in the workshop include the neural basis of movement production in dance and its application to therapies and improved training techniques, the perception of movement and affect from dance and the evolutionary basis of dance.


1) There is no charge for attending the workshop, but since spaces are limited we ask you to register by sending us an email

2) There will be a poster area for those wishing to present their research

3) A limited number of student travel awards will be available, for those interested please send a CV and brief cover letter

4) CONTACT DETAILS: To register, request a poster, or request a travel award - send email to: or

FINAL Programme of Talks

8:00-8:30 Registration

8:30-8:40 Opening Remarks


8:40 - 9:10 Armando Menicacci University Paris 8

Measuring Space Perception in Dancers

9:10 - 9:40 Patrick Haggard UCL

Neural Correlates of Visual Recognition of Dance

9:40 - 10:10 Beatriz Calvo-Merino UCL

Ways of seeing dance: from sensorimotor to aesthetic processing

10:10 - 10:25 Phil Barnard MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit


10:25-10:45 Break


10:45 - 11:15 Lawrence Parsons University of Sheffield

Neural Basis of Dancing

11:15 - 11:45 Alan Wing University of Birmingham

Coordination and Synchronisation for Ensemble Dance Performance

11:45 - 12:00 Jessica Grahn MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit


12:00-13:00 Lunch & Posters

Production: Applied

13:00 - 13:30 Emily Cross Max Planck Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, Leipzig

Neural Correlates of Learning to Dance

13:30 - 14:00 John Gruzelier Goldsmiths University London

The beneficial effects of alpha/theta and heart rate variability training on dance performance

14:00 - 14:30 Gammon Earhart Washington University of Saint Louis

Dance Therapy with Parkinsons Disease patients

14:30 - 14:45 Daniel Glaser Wellcome Trust


14:45-15:00 Break

Affect & Empathy

15:00 - 15:30 Frank Pollick University of Glasgow

Representing motion and affect in dance

15:30 - 16:00 Dee Reynolds and Corinne Jola University of Manchester and University of Glasgow

Watching Dance - Kinesthetic Empathy

16:00 - 16:15 Anthony Atkinson Durham University



16:15 - 16:45 William Brown Brunel University

Dance and Evolutionary Models of Fitness

16:45 - 17:15 Jerome Lewis UCL

Dance and Hunting: Some evolutionary perspectives in contemporary hunter-gatherer contexts

17:15 - 17:30 Cecilia Heyes UCL


17:30-17:45 Closing Remarks

Invited Attendees

Antonia Hamilton (University of Nottingham)
Nicola Clayton (University of Cambridge)
Alex Reuben (Independent Filmmaker)
Bettina Blaesing (University of Bielefeld)
Scott Delahunta (Writing Research Associates, NL)


Human dance is likely four million years old, as old as human bipedal locomotion. It is an evolutionary novelty: nothing comparable seems present in mammals or other animals. We moderns tend to think of dance as a set of pleasing abstract movements, or as a means to find romance at a club. However, in traditional cultures and in the recent evolutionary past of our species, dance was and is a kind of gesture language that depicts an instructive narrative of events and personalities of collective importance for a group. Dance's essential collective character is seen in rhythmic patterning, usually to a musical beat, that engenders a nearly unique interpersonal synchronisation and coordination. While dance can be an individual display, group dancing during ceremonial rituals in traditional cultures generally serves a cooperative function, reinforcing a group's unity of purpose.

The neural, behavioural, and evolutionary basis of dance has only very recently attracted close scientific attention. Significantly, a critical mass of these researchers are now in the UK. These researchers will gather for a one-day workshop, the first or largest such meeting ever. The purpose of the interdisciplinary workshop would be to share ongoing research, identify common and complementaryapproaches and resources, and highlight outstanding goals, as well as to make the research available to EPS members and students. The themes in the workshop would include the neural basis of entrainment, meter, and coordinated limb navigation; neural correlates of the gestural-emotional aspects of dance; evolutionary context of dance; dance as part of a gestural protolanguage possibly preceding recent language evolution in humans; neural correlates of learning to dance and of dance expertise; behavioral studies of synchronisation by ensembles of dancers; the use of dance as physical therapy in movement disorders; biofeedback in dance performance enhancement; and new technologies for dance.

Selected References

Evidence for distinct contributions of form and motion information to the recognition of emotions from body gestures.Atkinson, A.P., Tunstall, M.L., & Dittrich, W.H. Cognition, 104, 59-72, 2007.

The neural basis of human dance. Brown, S., Martinez, MJ, & Parsons,LM. Cerebral Cortex 16, 1157-1167, 2006.

Neuroscience of Dance. Brown, S., & Parsons, L.M. Scientific American, July 2008 issue.

Dance reveals symmetry especially in young men. Brown, W.M., Cronk, L., Grochow, K., Jacobson, A., Liu, K., Popoviç, Z., Trivers, R. Nature, 438, 1148-1150, 2005.

Action observation and acquired motor skills: An fMRI study with expert dancers. Calvo-Merino, B, Glaser, DE, Grèzes, J, Passingham, RE, & Haggard, P. Cerebral Cortex 15, 1243-1249, 2005.

Seeing or doing? influence of visual or motor familiarity in action observation. Calvo-Merino, B, Glaser, DE, Grèzes, J, Passingham, RE, & Haggard, P. Current Biology 16, 1905-1910, 2006.

Building a motor simulation de novo: Observation of dance by dancers. Cross, ES, de C. Hamilton, AF, & Grafton, ST. Neuroimage 31, 1257-1267, 2006.

Sensitivity of the action observation network to physical and observational learning. Cross, ES, Kraemer, DJ, Hamilton, AF, Kelley, WM, & Grafton, ST. Cerebral Cortex, in press.

The biology and evolution of rhythm: Unravelling a paradox. WT Fitch. In M Rebuschat, et al (Eds): "Language and Music as Cognitive Systems" Oxford University Press, in press.

Effects of tango on functional mobility in Parkinson's Disase: A preliminary study. Hackney, ME, Kantorovich, S, Levin, R, & Earhart, GM. J Neurol Phys Ther. 31:173-9, 2007.

The representation of affect revealed by Butoh dance. MacFarlane L., Kulka I. & Pollick F.E. Psychologia 47, 96-103, 2004.

The singing Neanderthal: The origins of music, language, mind, and body. Mithen, S. Harvard University Press, 2006.

The dynamics of ensemble: the case for flamenco. Maduell, M., & Wing, AM. Psychology of Music, Vol. 35, 591-627, 2007.

Perceiving affect from arm movement. Pollick F.E., Paterson H., Bruderlin A. & Sanford A.J. Cognition 82, B51-B61, 2001.

Biofeedback and dance performance: A preliminary investigation. Raymond, J, Sajid, I, Parkinson, LA, & Gruzelier, JH. Appl Psychopsychophys & Biofeedback, 30, 65-73, 2005.



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