Brain in action: from dance to trance | Abertay University

Brain in action: from dance to trance


Why do we dance? What happens in our brains when we dance or watch others moving? Why do we play/listen to music, create art, play sports? And why do we often do it in groups? Research suggest a basic human need for entrainment with ecstatic effects influencing group behaviors. Like language or music, dance has been present for tens of thousands of years with wide ranging functions from preparing groups going into war to finding a suitable mate. Thus, dance tells us a lot about social interactions, the individuals’ emotional state, the human brain and behavior in general as well as in trance.


This module introduces you to the mental processes involved in physical and creative cultural practices. In lectures and practical classes, you will gain current psychological knowledge on the cognitive, perceptual and neuronal processes involved in dance and movement as well as other artistic/creative practices such as music, acting or painting. The focus is on building an in-depth appreciative yet critical understanding of contemporary empirical research entailing a variety of methodological approaches. In particular, you will learn how to apply your own embodied experience with creative practices in critically appreciating existing research linked with dance performance, dance spectatorship, aesthetic and cultural evolution, as well as arts-based health and wellbeing approaches.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module the student should be able to:

1.  Demonstrate familiarity with conceptual frameworks within the field.

2.  Review and evaluate published work within the field, identifying some of its strengths and weaknesses.

3.  Show an understanding of current critical thinking in empirical research and situate contemporary research in the historical context of psychology.

4.  Write with clarity to present logical and coherent arguments that are well structured.

5.  Work effectively with others by communicating own ideas effectively and creatively, and by giving feedback as well as making use of feedback received.

6.  Show independent engagement through self-led study using a range of learning resources.

Indicative Content

1 Why do we dance: Feelings, the innateness of rhythm and functions of dance

Are we born to dance? Is dancing an innate, biologically-driven activity to get in trance? Do animals dance? The module will provide a comprehensive introduction to theories and research findings on the evolution of dance, considering functions of rituals linked to aggression, status, trance, mating and communication. We will discuss studies showing the genetic disposition of dance, personality and individual differences in developmental, cognitive and motor responses to dance, music and rhythm.

2 What you need to dance: Motor action, perception, and memory

What makes our body move? To understand what we need in order to dance, the module will cover topics of motor control and action, visuo-spatial perception, memory and frameworks of expertise. Further, advancements in models of training and strategies to enhance performance will be discussed (i.e., imagery, attention, goal-setting, and other training technique for improving performance).

3 Watching dance: Audiences’ expertise and personal preferences

What do we see and feel when we watch dance? This section builds the core of the module. It covers a large content, relating to the nonverbal information we transmit through dance and how. Research on cognitive, perceptual, emotional and sensorimotor processes of watching dance will be discussed within the concepts of action observation, mirror neurons, embodied cognition, sensorimotor entrainment, kinaesthetic empathy, biological motion, synchronicity as well as experimental aesthetics.

4 The benefits of dance: Self-confidence, body image, rehabilitation, health and wellbeing

The reports on effects of dance on health and wellbeing are controversial. While participation in recreational dance has predominantly positive effects on self-image, vocational dance training and professional dance practice can be hugely detrimental to the individual’s health and wellbeing. The findings from the literature are discussed in terms of body image, motivation, and identity, injury and self-esteem, ideal means of training, as well as dance as a form of rehabilitation.

Statement on Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Students will learn trough reflecting upon a creative practice on their choice embedded within existing theories. The module supports the transfer from subjective experience to empirical research. The learning, teaching and delivery combines factual knowledge with personal experience, theoretical learning with practical explorations. An emphasis is on group discussions and creative yet critical debate, requiring individual independent learning as well as collaboration. Students will also receive two one-to-one feedback/feedforward tutoring sessions in order to support their individual needs and interests. Please note that engagement with the taught sessions and practical workshops is essential to allow you to fully engage with the refelctive practice that is part of the assessment. You must be prepared to attend all sessions. There will also be opportunities to see a dance performance - these will occur outside of the timetabled hours. Some of the workshops will include movement, however, other activities are available for students who do not want take apart. Should you have any questions or concerns, please speak to the module leader.

Teaching and Learning Work Loads

Total 200
Lecture 12
Tutorial/Seminar 20
Supervised Practical Activity 8
Unsupervised Practical Activity 30
Assessment 60
Independent 70

Guidance notes

Credit Value – The total value of SCQF credits for the module. 20 credits are the equivalent of 10 ECTS credits. A full-time student should normally register for 60 SCQF credits per semester.


We make every effort to ensure that the information on our website is accurate but it is possible that some changes may occur prior to the academic year of entry. The modules listed in this catalogue are offered subject to availability during academic year 2018/19 , and may be subject to change for future years.