Towards a sensorimotor aesthetics of performing art

Consciousness and Cognition 17 (3):911-922 (2008)
Abstract
The field of neuroaesthetics attempts to identify the brain processes underlying aesthetic experience, including but not limited to beauty. Previous neuroaesthetic studies have focussed largely on paintings and music, while performing arts such as dance have been less studied. Nevertheless, increasing knowledge of the neural mechanisms that represent the bodies and actions of others, and which contribute to empathy, make a neuroaesthetics of dance timely. Here, we present the first neuroscientific study of aesthetic perception in the context of the performing arts. We investigated brain areas whose activity during passive viewing of dance stimuli was related to later, independent aesthetic evaluation of the same stimuli. Brain activity of six naïve male subjects was measured using fMRI, while they watched 24 dance movements, and performed an irrelevant task. In a later session, participants rated each movement along a set of established aesthetic dimensions. The ratings were used to identify brain regions that were more active when viewing moves that received high average ratings than moves that received low average ratings. This contrast revealed bilateral activity in the occipital cortices and in right premotor cortex. Our results suggest a possible role of visual and sensorimotor brain areas in an automatic aesthetic response to dance. This sensorimotor response may explain why dance is widely appreciated in so many human cultures
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