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Dance is unique in that it is a sport and an art simultaneously. Beyond improving sensorimotor functions, dance training could benefit high-level emotional and cognitive functions. Duo dances also confer the possibility for dancers to develop the abilities to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of their dance partners during the long-term dance training. To test this possibility, we collected high-resolution structural and resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data from 43 expert-level ballroom dancers (a model of long-term exposure to duo dance training) and 40 age-matched and sex-matched nondancers, and measured their empathic ability using a self-report trait empathy scale. We found that ballroom dancers showed higher scores of empathic concern (EC) than controls. The EC scores were positively correlated with years with dance partners but negatively correlated with the number of dance partners for ballroom dancers. These behavioral results were supported by the structural and functional MRI data. Structurally, we observed that the gray matter volumes in the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and EC scores were positively correlated. Functionally, the connectivity between ACC and occipital gyrus was positively correlated with both EC scores and years with dance partners. In addition, the relationship between years with dance partners and EC scores was indirect-only mediated by the ACC-occipital gyrus functional connectivity. Therefore, our findings provided solid evidence for the close link between long-term ballroom dance training and empathy, which deepens our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying this phenomenon.

Original publication




Journal article


Hum Brain Mapp

Publication Date





315 - 326


anterior cingulate cortex, ballroom dance, empathic concern, occipital gyrus, resting-state functional connectivity, trait empathy, Humans, Dancing, Empathy, Brain, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Brain Mapping