The impact of sensorimotor experience on affective evaluation of dance

Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Sep 3:7:521. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00521. eCollection 2013.


Past research demonstrates that we are more likely to positively evaluate a stimulus if we have had previous experience with that stimulus. This has been shown for judgment of faces, architecture, artworks and body movements. In contrast, other evidence suggests that this relationship can also work in the inverse direction, at least in the domain of watching dance. Specifically, it has been shown that in certain contexts, people derive greater pleasure from watching unfamiliar movements they would not be able to physically reproduce compared to simpler, familiar actions they could physically reproduce. It remains unknown, however, how different kinds of experience with complex actions, such as dance, might change observers' affective judgments of these movements. Our aim was to clarify the relationship between experience and affective evaluation of whole body movements. In a between-subjects design, participants received either physical dance training with a video game system, visual and auditory experience or auditory experience only. Participants' aesthetic preferences for dance stimuli were measured before and after the training sessions. Results show that participants from the physical training group not only improved their physical performance of the dance sequences, but also reported higher enjoyment and interest in the stimuli after training. This suggests that physically learning particular movements leads to greater enjoyment while observing them. These effects are not simply due to increased familiarity with audio or visual elements of the stimuli, as the other two training groups showed no increase in aesthetic ratings post-training. We suggest these results support an embodied simulation account of aesthetics, and discuss how the present findings contribute to a better understanding of the shaping of preferences by sensorimotor experience.

Keywords: aesthetics; dance; motor learning; neuroaesthetics; observational learning; training.