The dancing brain: the effect of expertise on visual attention while viewing Australian contemporary dance

Document Type

Conference publication

Publication details

Stevens, C, Winskel, H, Healey, S, Howell, C, Vidal, L, Latimer, C & Milne-Home, J 2007, 'The dancing brain: the effect of expertise on visual attention while viewing Australian contemporary dance', Proceedings of the 17th Annual Meeting of the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science, Canberra, ACT, 25-28 October, IADMS, pp. 309-314.

Peer Reviewed



This paper reports an experimental psychology investigation of the effect of observer expertise on eye movements (fixations, saccades, scanpaths) while watching a short dance film. The theory under investigation is that with experience, training and exposure, experts in a particular domain acquire attuned pattern recognition skills and efficient strategies for scanning complex arrays of information. When applied to the domain of contemporary dance, we hypothesize that those with extensive exposure, expertise and training record efficient patterns of eye movements including fixations of short duration, anticipation of the way and/or where dancers move, and fixations on informative aspects of the dancers? bodies. By contrast, novice observers are likely to record less strategic, less anticipatory (regressive) eye movements, with a tendency to fixate the face of the dancer (akin to watching a movie). A five-minute contemporary dance film, 13 and 32 ? a duet by choreographer Sue Healey, was used as the stimulus material. Eye movements from five expert and five novice observers were recorded with EyeLinkII and analysed using DataViewer and custom-written software. Participants watched the dance film twice and provided a written account of their various responses to the film. The results will be interpreted in light of theories of visual attention, pattern recognition and expertise. Implications for the findings for dancers and for dance education and audience development will be discussed.