Exploring Somatic Sensation
A project run by Nina Atkinson.
As an audience member, do we 'feel' movement in performance? This project, a collaboration between researchers in dance and cognitive neuroscience, investigated kinaesthetic empathy in audiences attending an immersive performance. Kinaesthetic empathy involves the internal ‘simulation’ of observed movement in the brain of the observer; this simulation of others’ actions contributes to action understanding and empathy. For example, when we see someone expressing an emotion, the emotion is embodied through our neural and physiological response. It is not known whether this response is dependent on sight, or can be experienced in a more direct ‘somatic’ manner. We aimed to test the impact of an immersive performance on emotion, arousal and spontaneous motor responses, in general audiences and an audience with sensory impairments.
Methods: The choreography ‘Hanging Heavy’ combines physically charged movement with moments of delicate interaction. Music and lighting were designed to complement the energy and the work was performed at three venues. Audience reactions were measured in terms of spontaneous movements and arousal (heart rate), to identify responses to changes in the movement and music. We also measured audience perceptions via subjective ratings of emotions experienced, enjoyment, comfort, and embodiment. Results and conclusions: Preliminary analysis indicates that increases in heart rate and subtle movements may correspond to changes in the music and movement. Subjective ratings suggested that the audience ‘embodied’ the performance, and feelings of happiness and surprise were reported. Finer-grained analysis is under way and final results will be presented.