Monday, October 20, 2008

Scientific American Takes on the Dance

Scientific American must have been in a terpsichorian mood lately. In addition to the Stayin' Alive story I mentioned a few days ago, the publication has tackled the question Why Do We Like to Dance?

First, people speculate that music was created through rhythmic movement—think: tapping your foot. Second, some reward-related areas in the brain are connected with motor areas. Third, mounting evidence suggests that we are sensitive and attuned to the movements of others' bodies, because similar brain regions are activated when certain movements are both made and observed. For example, the motor regions of professional dancers' brains show more activation when they watch other dancers compared with people who don't dance.

This kind of finding has led to a great deal of speculation with respect to mirror neurons—cells found in the cortex, the brain's central processing unit, that activate when a person is performing an action as well as watching someone else do it. Increasing evidence suggests that sensory experiences are also motor experiences. Music and dance may just be particularly pleasurable activators of these sensory and motor circuits. So, if you're watching someone dance, your brain's movement areas activate; unconsciously, you are planning and predicting how a dancer would move based on what you would do.