Are Dancers More Empathetic? Science Thinks So.

Maybe it's all that time we spend crawling all over each other that makes us more empathetic. PC Alastair Muir.

We like to believe there are many reasons why dancing makes you a better person. It provides you with a sense of discipline, a strong work ethic, a spirit of collaboration and so much more. Of course, these things are difficult to prove. Until now— a new study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance suggests that dancers are more empathetic than the average person, and that empathy can be learned.

Researchers showed a group of professional dancers and a group of non-dancers the same footage of ballet dancing, blurred so that facial expressions were unrecognizable. The participants' emotional responses were monitored by electrodes, which showed that the dancers had a much stronger emotional response to what they saw on the screen.

What does this mean? Those with a dance background were more sensitive to others' physical expressions, which implies that this sensitivity can be trained. In other words, it's possible that our bodies can learn to be more empathetic through dance and other physical activities. As one of the researchers told Sarah Kaufman in The Washington Post yesterday, the study demonstrates “why everyone should dance. Our research indicates that dance training might be a way to make you more aware of emotions.”

Could it be that dancers responded more strongly to dance simply because they know dance—and that the larger implications are a bit of a stretch? We think it's possible. But still, it's nice to know of one more way dance could be making us better people.

As if we needed another reason to dance.

Get more Dance Magazine.

 

Latest Posts


Paulo Arrais rehearsing Agon with Lia Cirio. Photo by Brooke Trisolini

Fear of Reinjury Could Make You More Prone to Hurting Yourself Again. Here's How to Avoid It

It was Boston Ballet's first full run-through of its upcoming show, Kylián/Wings of Wax. As he prepared with a plié for a big saut de basque, principal dancer Paulo Arrais, 32, heard a Velcro-like sound and suddenly fell to the floor. He went into a state of shock, hyperventilating and feeling intense pressure on his knee. It turned out to be a full patellar tendon rupture, requiring surgery and an entire year off before he could return to the company.

Though his physical condition continues to improve, Arrais' mental recovery has also been challenging. "Treating your mind is just as important as treating your body," he says.

Feeling safe when returning to the studio can be tricky for any dancer. Some researchers believe a fear of reinjury can actually make athletes more prone to hurting themselves again. We talked to several medical professionals to understand why that might happen and what dancers can do to overcome that anxiety.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS