Dance experience sculpts aesthetic perception and related brain circuits

Louise P. Kirsch, Kelvin Dawson, Emily S. Cross*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


Previous research on aesthetic preferences demonstrates that people are more likely to judge a stimulus as pleasing if it is familiar. Although general familiarity and liking are related, it is less clear how motor familiarity, or embodiment, relates to a viewer's aesthetic appraisal. This study directly compared how learning to embody an action impacts the neural response when watching and aesthetically evaluating the same action. Twenty-two participants trained for 4 days on dance sequences. Each day they physically rehearsed one set of sequences, passively watched a second set, listened to the music of a third set, and a fourth set remained untrained. Functional MRI was obtained prior to and immediately following the training period, as were affective and physical ability ratings for each dance sequence. This approach enabled precise comparison of self-report methods of embodiment with nonbiased, empirical measures of action performance. Results suggest that after experience, participants most enjoy watching those dance sequences they danced or observed. Moreover, brain regions involved in mediating the aesthetic response shift from subcortical regions associated with dopaminergic reward processing to posterior temporal regions involved in processing multisensory integration, emotion, and biological motion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)130-139
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2014. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • action perception
  • affective judgment
  • emotion
  • aesthetics
  • fMRI
  • dance


Dive into the research topics of 'Dance experience sculpts aesthetic perception and related brain circuits'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this