How do dancers portray emotion? To help find out, Prof Richard Wiseman and Dr Peter Lovatt from the University of Hertfordshire have teamed up with dancer Caroline Duker to carry out a unique experiment.

This study, based on work originally carried out by Dr Winand Dittrich and colleagues, involved people watching a dancer in both full light, and dancing in the dark with small points of light attached to her body, and attempting to work out the emotion she is portraying.

In one part of the experiment, participants saw a dancer portray one of four emotions (neutral, joy, sadness, and anger) whilst performing in full light. The results showed that people were 80% correct. The second part of the experiment involved watching videos of the same dance sequences, but this time everyone just saw six light points that were attached to the dancers shoulders, wrists and ankles.

The previous work had shown that people were about 63% accurate when shown 13 points of light. Remarkably, participants in our study were 62% accurate with just six points of light. This suggests that people can recognise emotional movement from just the smallest amount of information. We found no difference between men and woman, or different ages.

These results were presented at a special event at the Dana Centre (part of the London Science Museum) in January, and the event will run again on the 8 July 2008.



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