Dancers' brainwaves to be studied by Stirling scientists

Dancers will have their brainwaves examined as they perform in an attempt to bring the science of artistic production to life.

Simon Ladouce, researcher at Stirlings centre for mobile cognition, sets up an electrode cap on a dancer. Picture: Contributed

Neuroscientists will carry out brainwave measurements on performers from Mark Murphy’s V-TOL Out of This World show, which premiers at Stirling’s Macrobert Art Centre on April 21.

Simon Ladouce, a PhD candidate at the University of Stirling, will record the electrical brain activity of dancers as they perform a choreographed routine.

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The project is the first time the researchers have recorded electrophysiological brain signals in someone who is dancing – bringing art and science together in a novel way.

Ladouce, from the university’s centre for mobile cognition, said: “This unique link-up with Macrobert and the makers of Out of This World represents a great opportunity to put our methods developed here at Stirling to the challenge, capturing brain activity during highly dynamic behaviours in a real-life environment.”

Murphy’s show, Out of This World, combines breath taking aerial movement, live original music and interactive projection to tell a touching tale – and is all set in the character’s subconscious.

In the research test, the dancers wear caps, filled with electrodes, on their heads. This tells the experts when and where electrical activity is changing on the surface of the brain.

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Ladouce added: “We want find out more about the brain’s dynamics when dancing. Although some dancers make it seem effortless, dancing actually requires the brain to plan a series of complex actions and quickly adapt these based on what their partner, or the tempo of the music, is doing.

“We are particularly interested in the difference between dancing alone and with a partner: how do brain processes differ when dancing in synchrony with someone else? By recording brainwaves in the social setting of dance, we can gain a better understanding about how we perceive, think and act in everyday life situations.”

Julie Ellen, artistic director at Macrobert, said: “It is a pleasure to see performers and researchers inspiring and informing each other’s practise in ways that develop what they do.

“The growth in understanding that is then shared goes toward increasing public knowledge. Working in this way really adds to the value of Macrobert Arts Centre and the University of Stirling as cultural assets for the communities we serve and is a really fun way to get more out of this superb project being created here.”

Direct research into mobile cognition began at Stirling three years ago and the field is still in its infancy. Simon’s work will be displayed on opening night, alongside other cutting-edge neuroscience research which has informed the show’s production.

Fellow PhD researcher Thomas Di Virgilio will demonstrate how scientists see the brain communicating with muscle elsewhere in the body, showing part of the science behind the traumatic brain damage suffered by the show’s central character.

Masters student Derval McCormack will also illustrate the show’s emotional narrative by demonstrating a brain stimulation technique which moderates the brain’s ability to detect positive or negative emotions.