Can music be used to augment the naturally empathetic qualities of joint activities? Does dancing with someone make us more sensitive to their emotional needs?
1) Goldstein, T.R. & Yasskin, R. (2014). Another pathway to understanding human nature: Theatre and dance. In Press. Tinio and J. Smith (Eds.), Cambridge Handbook of the Psychology of Aesthetics and the Arts. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Authored by my thesis adviser, this article looks at the performing arts and proposes that researchers examine them from the perspective of cognitive science. Specifically, her research has a slant towards emotion regulation and empathy, and she discusses the anecdotal and correlational evidence for a positive effect of dance on empathy, while proposing experimental paradigms to examine a potential causal relationship between the two.
2) Witek, Maria A. G. (2009). Groove Experience: Emotional and Physiological Responses to Groove-Based Music. European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music, 573-582.
If rhythms can augment empathy between individuals, then a likely mechanism by which this happens seems to be that music’s groove. Witek analyzed the ability of groove to elicit the same emotional responses across participants, but found something interesting: while each participant was able to identify and report a groove in the music, their evaluations of the music’s affective quality varied greatly. Perhaps, then, it is not the urge to move (as produced by a groove) that affects our abilities to interpret another’s emotional response. Perhaps a rhythm that is more consistently “on the beat” is needed to let us “tune in” to those around us.