Dance on cortex: ERPs and phase synchrony in dancers and musicians during a contemporary dance piece

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Music and dance have been important parts of the human experience for millennia. They have enabled interaction which has given rise to resilient communities and rich cultures. Neuroscience has studied music for decades. It has been found to activate both the cortical and deeper brain areas in a unique way. Neuroscience of dance, instead, is a young but quickly growing field. Studies of professional dancers and musicians have highlighted the importance of multimodal interaction and motor-related brain regions in cerebral processing of dance and music. Current direction of neuroscience is to study the brain in its natural environment. Therefore, simplified stimuli made for the laboratory conditions have been replaced by the stimuli of the real world, such as arts and social interaction. Despite these continuous stimuli have already been successfully studied with fMRI, methods to study cortical EEG under such stimuli are lacking. The purpose of my doctoral research is to develop and use two methods for studying the brain with EEG during the perception of dance and music. One of these methods is based on the event-related potentials (ERPs) to investigate the influence of fast changes of musical features in the brain in a short timescale. The other method utilizes changes in phase synchrony between two electrode channels when investigating cortical dynamics during observation of dance and music over a longer timescale. In my doctoral research, the developed methods are applied in studying differences in cortical dynamics of professional dancers, musicians and laymen. By both methods, differences in brain activity were found between the groups of experts and laymen when watching dance or listening to music. In addition, these methods detected changes in lower lever brain processes related to uni- and multimodal processing and acceleration of dance movement. By the ERP method, dancers were shown to have an enhanced auditory P50 response when compared to musicians and laymen which refers to dancers’ modulated processing of musical features in an early preattentive level. The method of phase synchrony revealed enhanced theta (4-8 Hz) synchrony in dancers when compared to two other groups when watching audio-visual dance. During music, dancers had enhanced theta and gamma (30-48 Hz) synchrony when compared to conditions without music. Both theta and gamma are associated with higher order processing related to multimodal integration, memory and emotions. In contrast, musicians had decreased alpha (8-13 Hz) and beta (13-30 Hz) synchrony when listening to music. These frequency bands are associated with movement preparation and execution. In addition, laymen were the only group which showed systematic changes in synchrony during dance when compared to the conditions without dance. These changes occurred on theta, alpha, beta and gamma bands. The processing of early changes within uni- and multimodal stimuli, and the accelerated movement of the body did not differ between dancers, musicians and laymen. In all groups, the auditory ERP responses were generally suppressed and sped up during multimodal presentation of music when compared to the unimodal stimulus. Also, the alpha synchrony was decreased in all groups during the parts of the choreography with accelerated large dance movement when compared to parts with nearly still presence. These changes were the strongest during the audio-visual stimulus with a real dancer. Also, during audio-visual dancing stick figure and silent dance some cortical regions showed decreased alpha synchrony for fast dance movement. Decreased alfa-synchrony is associated to motor processing and higher state of alertness in general. These results show that the methods developed in my doctoral research are suitable in analysing continuous EEG of naturalistic artistic stimuli, and in detecting changes in cortical processing of dancers and musicians during such stimuli. The results of the study suggest that dancers have modulated cortical processing related to multimodal interaction, memory and/or emotions whereas musicians have a special motor-related processing when listening to music. The methods developed in my doctoral research can be used when watching a live performance to study further dance and musical expertise. These methods can be directly applied during music production and light dancing. Several neurological and psychiatric disorders are associated with abnormalities in oscillatory activity, especially in cross-frequency coupling. Therefore, development of the phase synchrony method to that direction is essential. Together this array of methods could be applied in estimating the efficiency and developing further expressive therapies, such as dance-movement therapy, and in alleviating symptoms as a part of holistic treatment plan for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia, autism, and pain and mood disorders.
Original languageEnglish
  • Tervaniemi, Mari, Supervisor
  • Toiviainen, Petri, Supervisor, External person
Award date11 May 2018
Place of PublicationHelsinki
Print ISBNs978-951-51-4235-1
Electronic ISBNs978-951-51-4236-8
Publication statusPublished - 2018
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)

Bibliographical note

M1 - 100 s. + liitteet

Fields of Science

  • Music
  • Auditory Perception
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory
  • Kinesthesis
  • Dancing
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Brain Waves
  • Cortical Excitability
  • Brain
  • Electroencephalography
  • Emotions
  • 515 Psychology

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