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Spectators’ Experience of Watching Dance without Music: A cognitive semiotic exploration of kinesthetic empathy


  • Khatia Chikhladze

Summary, in English

Empathy is our ability to experience and understand the mental states of others. In movement perception, and in particular in dance spectatorship, it has been argued that we experience observed movements through our own bodies: kinesthetic empathy. However, it has been unclear what exactly kinesthetic empathy encompasses on an experiential level as dance spectatorship research has been dominated by brain-oriented studies, without matching this with qualitative data.

The thesis explored the nature of kinesthetic empathy in connection with how spectators experience movement – the core element of dance – from the perspective of cognitive semiotics, by combining first- and second-person methods of phenomenological analysis and interview, with third-person methods, based on experiment and questionnaire. 20 participants, grouped as either familiar or unfamiliar with dance, watched two short dance performances, one in classical ballet and the other in contemporary dance. The two dances differed in terms of qualities of movement (Sheets-Johnstone 2015). Participants’ skin conductance and respiration were measured as they watched the dance performances, and they later answered questions and were interviewed regarding their feelings and attitudes, as well as evaluations of the performance and dance movements.

The results showed that the spectators’ psychophysiological responses across the two dances differed, but that this also depended on the degree of familiarity. There were clearer correlations between the skin conductance and respiration data and the introspections for the Familiar group, suggesting that familiarity does indeed play a role in kinesthetic empathy. Based on these findings, the thesis proposes a two-level model of kinesthetic empathy in which the pre-conscious level (in the sense of Zlatev 2018) is manifested in psychophysiological responses, and the conscious level in imagined movements, reflected in explicit introspections about feelings and attitudes. Dance familiarity appears to affect the second of these levels, as well as how well-connected it is to the pre-conscious level.


Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Master's degree (two years)


  • Languages and Literatures


  • empathy
  • kinesthetic empathy
  • qualitative kinetic dynamics
  • qualities of movement
  • vitality affects
  • emotional arousal
  • respiration
  • skin conductance
  • consciousness
  • phenomenology
  • intentionality
  • classical ballet
  • contemporary dance.


  • Jordan Zlatev (Docent)
  • Joost van de Wejier (Associate Professor)