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.
More than once, when I'm sporting my faded, well-loved ballet hoodie, some slight variation of this conversation ensues:
"Is your daughter the dancer?"
"Actually," I say, "I am."
"Wow!" they enthuse. "Who do you dance with? Or have you retired...?"
"I don't dance with a company. I'm not a professional. I just take classes."
Insert mic drop/record scratch/quizzical looks.
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