Joint action aesthetics

Vicary, Staci; Sperling, Matthias; von Zimmermann, Jorina; Richardson, Daniel C. and Orgs, Guido. 2017. Joint action aesthetics. PLoS ONE, 12(7), e0180101. ISSN 1932-6203 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Synchronized movement is a ubiquitous feature of dance and music performance. Much research into the evolutionary origins of these cultural practices has focused on why humans perform rather than watch or listen to dance and music. In this study, we show that movement synchrony among a group of performers predicts the aesthetic appreciation of live dance performances. We developed a choreography that continuously manipulated group synchronization using a defined movement vocabulary based on arm swinging, walking and running. The choreography was performed live to four audiences, as we continuously tracked the performers’ movements, and the spectators’ affective responses. We computed dynamic synchrony among performers using cross recurrence analysis of data from wrist accelerometers, and implicit measures of arousal from spectators’ heart rates. Additionally, a subset of spectators provided continuous ratings of enjoyment and perceived synchrony using tablet computers. Granger causality analyses demonstrate predictive relationships between synchrony, enjoyment ratings and spectator arousal, if audiences form a collectively consistent positive or negative aesthetic evaluation. Controlling for the influence of overall movement acceleration and visual change, we show that dance communicates group coordination via coupled movement dynamics among a group of performers. Our findings are in line with an evolutionary function of dance–and perhaps all performing arts–in transmitting social signals between groups of people. Human movement is the common denominator of dance, music and theatre. Acknowledging the time-sensitive and immediate nature of the performer-spectator relationship, our study makes a significant step towards an aesthetics of joint actions in the performing arts.

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This research was supported by an ESRC transformative research grant (ES/M000680/1) awarded to G. Orgs and D. C. Richardson. The study was conducted in collaboration with Siobhan Davies Dance ( We would like to thank Michelle Outram, Ernesto Monroy Agamez, Andrew Smith, and Graeme Shaw for their help with data collection and running the experiment. In particular, the authors would like to thank all performers who made this study possible: Ben Ash, Andrea Buckley, Antonio de la Fe, Kip Johnson, Michael Kitchin, Evangelina Kolyra, Annie Lok, Robert Vesty, Rosalie Wahlfrid and Sara Wookey.

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9 June 2017Accepted
25 July 2017Published


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07 Sep 2017 14:34

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03 Aug 2021 15:04

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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