Neuroscience meets dance: Towards a neuroscientific approach to mental health and wellbeing

Project Details


We are seeking AHRC funding for a series of initiatives that will inspire new research at the edge of creative and
performing arts, and medical humanities, particularly dance movement psychotherapy which takes advantage of
contemporary neuroscience to make existing research accessible to communities of practice, as well as to the general
Dance movement psychotherapy is a type of psychotherapy that uses movement to help individuals achieve emotional,
cognitive, physical, and social integration. Research has shown that dance movement psychotherapy can be used for
stress reduction, disease prevention, and mood management as well as, as a treatment tool across specific psychiatric
conditions, including depression and anxiety. The concepts and mechanisms by which this form of therapy may improve
positive outcomes are rather opaque. Some reasons for these benefits may be related to stimulating brain plasticity,
boosting neural circuitry important for body awareness, nervous system regulation, but also strengthening self-concept,
empathy, and interpersonal connection. Nevertheless, researchers have typically assessed subjective measures of
wellbeing and mood change, depression scores or other psychological outcomes pre- and post-intervention, which do not
always provide reliable and valid outcomes. Therefore, there is a need for more rigorous experimental methods including
mixed-methods quantitative and objective physiological and neurophysiological data collection in combination with
subjective self-reports. This is where contemporary neuroscience can help both in terms of clarifying the mechanisms of
how dance movement psychotherapy works, for example, by clarifying whether it improves people' body awareness and
ability to listen to their internal bodily signals, but also by disentangling the specific cognitive and emotional mechanisms
being targeted through therapy.
We will bring scholars, creative therapists, and performers to develop innovative collaborative research, including practicebased
and practice-led research. Three activities will be developed by the network:
1) Three interdisciplinary workshops. The first two will focus on core questions around the brain mechanisms underlying
dance observation (workshop 1) and dance performance (workshop 2). The third workshop will focus on the topic of the
'inner dancing body' that is how dance may help with shaping one's experience through body awareness and sensorybased
2) 2) A one-day conference, including a public event. A forum for new and recent scholars in the field to present their work and develop their ideas in a friendly, supportive atmosphere with featured speakers from neuroscience, the arts, and
creative therapies. Members of the public interested in dance and the use of the creative therapies will be also invited to
attend. On the second half of the day, a public event will include a live dance performance aimed at creatively summarise
key themes from the conference and to establish empirically testable measures of brain change and body movements.
3) A website and a blog platform hosting a variety of relevant content and interactive features.
The project will benefit scholars, mental health practitioners, artists, related stakeholders, e.g., arts centres and festival
personnel, and the general public by enriching collaborative, interdisciplinary research possibilities, inspiring new research
projects, and motivating new research applications and therapeutic interventions. Early career researchers and postgraduate students who are at the beginning of their academic careers will benefit from the exposure that their work will receive through the network. The virtual resources will ensure that the network will continue to develop outside the face-to-face events while enabling those who could not attend them to participate as well.
Short titleNeuroscience meets dance
Effective start/end date1/08/2330/06/24

Collaborative partners


  • neuroscience
  • dance
  • dance movement therapy
  • dance movement psychotherapy
  • arts therapies
  • arts

Research Institutes

  • Health Research Institute

Research Centres

  • Research Centre for Arts and Wellbeing


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