Module details for Brain in action: from dance to trance


This module will introduce you to the neuronal, cognitive, and emotional processes involved in physical and creative cultural practices, with an emphasis on dance and its power for change (hence; from dance to trance). Throughout the module, you will learn in short lectures with integrated Q & A sessions about current research on the perceptual, sensorimotor, emotional, cognitive and neuronal changes in relation to dance and other cultural practices from a psychological and neuroscientific perspective, covering a wide spectrum from social interaction, cognition, expertise, health and wellbeing, as well as personality and evolution. The theoretical and methodological content will be completed by small-group practical sessions that provide you with opportunities for shared, reflective experiences including example questions to prepare for the assessments. While the lectures and practical topics will focus on dance, you can choose your own activity of interest to apply the learnt content for the coursework such as music, theatre, sport, acting, painting and reading.


This module introduces you to the mental processes involved in physical and creative cultural practices. In lectures and practical classes, you will gain current neuroscientific and 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 in a practice of your choice and how you can transform an individual experience into a research proposal. You will also learn how to guide practical experiences of others. By intersecting theory and practice, you will absorb ideas on how to critically discuss existing research linked with a variety of topics (e.g. dance performance, dance spectatorship, aesthetic and cultural evolution, as well as arts-based health and wellbeing approaches) and you will be equipped with tools that allow you to transfer the knowledge to your own field of interest.

Learning Outcomes

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

1.  Demonstratean understanding of conceptual frameworks and theories 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 it's relationship to the historical context of psychology.

4.  Identify and communicate the challenges and insights of a practical activity in a creative, logical, and well-structured manner.

Indicative Content

1 Why 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.

5 The Psychology of theatre, art, music, sport, gaming

Throughout the module, we will touch on other cultural practices, such as acting, painting, writing, music, and so on. As with dance, individuals’ motivations to engage in these practices, related health and wellbeing benefits will be discussed and students are expected to engage in proposed literature in their field of interest.

Teaching and Learning Work Loads

Teaching and Learning Method Hours
Lecture 7
Tutorial/Seminar 4
Practical Activity 49
Assessment 70
Independent 70
Total 200

Guidance notes

SCQF Level - The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework provides an indication of the complexity of award qualifications and associated learning and operates on an ascending numeric scale from Levels 1-12 with SCQF Level 10 equating to a Scottish undergraduate Honours degree.

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 2021/22 , and may be subject to change for future years.