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2020 Abstracts

How We Move When We Feel: Kinesthetic Empathy through Mirror Neuron Systems

Bennett, Amelie; Mattingly, Kate (University of Utah)

Faculty Advisor: Mattingly, Kate (College of Science, School of Dance)

This work examines the commonly accepted notion of dance/movement therapy that mirroring another person’s movement will increase both participants’ levels of empathy. Mirroring involves a participant creating expressive dance; in a therapeutic setting, the therapist mirrors their movements to establish a relationship and gain insight into their physical and emotional experience. This connection most likely results from the activation of mirror neurons in the premotor and parietal cortices. In this study, I examine the relationship between the mirror and the dancer, specifically regarding the relative increase in their empathy levels. I also examine how a participant’s empathy level changes when the participant has dance training. The purpose of this factorial structure is to determine under what circumstances a participant has the best chances of improving their empathy. This study is ongoing and will conclude in December 2019; I expect to see the greatest increase in empathy from mirroring participants who have dance training, although all participants should increase in empathy from pre- to post-testing. Although my sample size is small enough that this is a case study, and is not clinical, it lends insight into understanding under what circumstances a dance/movement therapist and patient pair have the best chance of optimizing the patient’s empathic growth. By studying the relationship between empathy and dance training, I also begin to examine whether preemptive treatment can be taken before signs of social-emotional deficits present; that is, if a specific form of dance training and mirroring improves empathy in a non-clinical or pre-clinical population.