Study Suggests Dance Training May Be Linked to Emotional Awareness

A new study has found a scientific reason to get involved in the arts: an increased awareness of and sensitivity to the emotions of others.

Given the very nature of ballet — expressing emotion through physical movement — it only makes sense that its participants would be highly attuned to the emotions of others and how they are expressed. But the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, now proves that dancers tend to be more sensitive to emotional response.

During the study, two different groups were shown short ballet video clips. One group was made up of professional ballet dancers, and the other was a control group with no dance experience. The clips were black-and-white and silent, with the dancers’ faces obscured. Participants had to rate their emotional response to the brief clips based only on the shapes of the dancers’ moving bodies.

Although both groups “read” the emotional responses correctly and were able to identify whether the clips made them happy or sad, the difference was most apparent in the participants’ sweat response, detected by fingertip electrodes.

The dancers were found to have much stronger emotional reactions to the clips. Not only did they recognize the emotions displayed in the clips more accurately, their bodies displayed a more sensitive, emotional response in kind. Their bodies were found to differentiate between the emotions of the clips. Participants in the control group were not found to have this reaction.

Of course, this finding was not surprising. In fact, it’s exactly what was expected. Because dancers are trained to express and recognize physical manifestation and expression of human emotions, they are therefore more sensitive to them. Researcher Julia F. Christensen believes these findings show why everyone should dance.

Christensen also hypothesizes that involvement in dance could actually make dancers more empathetic. Because they are trained to recognize emotion, dancers may learn to automatically react to the expressions of others. However, this theory needs to be tested further — perhaps with video clips that do not directly involve dance.

The study gives credence to the idea that involvement in the arts could play a significant role in empathy training. Though empathy training programs are still in their infancy — mainly because replicating results is not a completely understood science — they do show great promise. More and more corporate businesses are embracing the idea of empathy training in order to improve management and retain employees.

Involvement in the arts and empathy training are incredibly useful in various areas of professional life. It can assist in anything from public speaking to making a good first impression at a job interview. And since nonverbal cues can have over four times the impact of nonverbal ones in a first impression, having additional emotional awareness and training could benefit both employer and potential employee.

Although the effect of arts and performance training on emotional awareness is in need of more time and study, the future seems promising — and it gives those of us who are creatively inclined yet another reason to stay involved in our art of choice.

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