Aesthetic processing of dynamic human movement: evidence from brain and behaviour
Reflective of human socialisation and non-verbal communication, dance affords insights into the understanding of dynamic social body movements. Understandably, dance perception and enjoyment differ between individuals, whereby factors including expertise, kinematic properties, and sociocultural background contribute to behavioural and neural aesthetic responses to dance. Although past work has indicated associations between several of these factors and aesthetic perceptions, we can develop deeper insights into what contributes to the aesthetic value of dance through the complementary use of neuroimaging and behavioural methods. The current thesis explores the impact of 1) embodied dance training on behavioural and neural perceptions of dance aesthetics; 2) the influence of one’s previous experience with the arts and sports on aesthetic perceptions; and 3) the relationship between one’s performance ability and aesthetic perceptions. The use of subjective rating scales of aesthetic qualities and objective measurements of cortical activity (via functional near-infrared spectroscopy; fNIRS) allowed for direct comparison of aesthetic perceptions of dance choreography before and after embodied learning. Following training, participants reported that movements learned during the training phase were more familiar, reproducible, and enjoyable to view than unlearned movements. Cortical activity in prominent regions of the Action Observation Network (i.e., inferior frontal gyrus, inferior parietal lobule, middle temporal gyrus) did not significantly differ when participants viewed learned versus unlearned dance choreography. The influences of arts experience and dance performance ability on aesthetic perceptions, and how approaches that combine behavioural and brain science techniques can further advance knowledge in this domain, are discussed.