This article is part of the Research Topic Brain and Art

Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 21 September 2011 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2011.00102

The impact of aesthetic evaluation and physical ability on dance perception

Emily S. Cross1,2,3*, Louise Kirsch1, Luca F. Ticini1,4 and Simone Schütz-Bosbach1
  • 1 Junior Research Group “Body and Self,” Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany
  • 2 Behavioural Science Institute, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands
  • 3 School of Psychology, Bangor University, Wales, UK
  • 4 Italian Society of Neuroaesthetics “Semir Zeki,” Trieste, Italy

The field of neuroaesthetics attracts attention from neuroscientists and artists interested in the neural underpinnings of esthetic experience. Though less studied than the neuroaesthetics of visual art, dance neuroaesthetics is a particularly rich subfield to explore, as it is informed not only by research on the neurobiology of aesthetics, but also by an extensive literature on how action experience shapes perception. Moreover, it is ideally suited to explore the embodied simulation account of esthetic experience, which posits that activation within sensorimotor areas of the brain, known as the action observation network (AON), is a critical element of the esthetic response. In the present study, we address how observers’ esthetic evaluation of dance is related to their perceived physical ability to reproduce the movements they watch. Participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while evaluating how much they liked and how well they thought they could physically replicate a range of dance movements performed by professional ballet dancers. We used parametric analyses to evaluate brain regions that tracked with degree of liking and perceived physical ability. The findings reveal strongest activation of occipitotemporal and parietal portions of the AON when participants view movements they rate as both esthetically pleasing and difficult to reproduce. As such, these findings begin to illuminate how the embodied simulation account of esthetic experience might apply to watching dance, and provide preliminary evidence as to why some people find enjoyment in an evening at the ballet.

Keywords: dance, neuroaesthetics, parietal, visual, fMRI, AON, ballet

Citation: Cross ES, Kirsch L, Ticini LF and Schütz-Bosbach S (2011) The impact of aesthetic evaluation and physical ability on dance perception. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 5:102. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2011.00102

Received: 03 May 2011; Paper pending published: 15 June 2011;
Accepted: 03 September 2011; Published online: 21 September 2011.

Edited by:

Idan Segev, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Reviewed by:

Marcel Brass, Ghent University, Belgium
Tamer Demiralp, Istanbul University, Turkey

Copyright: © 2011 Cross, Kirsch, Ticini and Schütz-Bosbach. This is an open-access article subject to a non-exclusive license between the authors and Frontiers Media SA, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and other Frontiers conditions are complied with.

*Correspondence: Emily S. Cross, School of Psychology, Adeilad Brigantia, Bangor University, Bangor, Wales LL57 2AS, UK. e-mail:

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