Friday, 5 December 2008

Scientists explain their work through the medium of dance

Forget Gene Kelly, Michael Jackson or Dirty Dancing, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has announced the winners of its science dance-off contest. According to the AAAS, "the human body is an excellent medium for communicating science--perhaps not as data-rich as a peer-reviewed article, but far more exciting".

And I'm pleased to say it's great news for psychology: the winner in the Post-Doc category was Miriam Sach at the University of Duesseldorf in Germany for her groovy portrayal of "Cerebral activation patterns induced by inflection of regular and irregular verbs with positron emission tomography. A comparison between single subject and group analysis". Congratulations Miriam!

The research showed that irregular and regular verbs are processed in the same parts of the brain rather than by specialised cortical areas. Oops...what am I doing - you'll get a far better idea of what the research was about from the dance:

If you didn't quite follow that, here's some written guidance, which appears alongside the vid on youtube:

This piece is subdivided into 3 sections: 1.) Introduction of regular verbs, 2.) Introduction of irregular verbs, 3.) Common neural network of regular and irregular verb inflection.
1.) Regular verbs are represented by the walking at the very beginning of this piece.
The walking is simple, straight forward and without irregularities. It is accompanied by the sound of crackling fire a metaphor for the firing neurons.
2.) In contrast, irregular verbs are represented by a huge variety of different movements: jumps, slides, turns, rolls, level changes. Irregularities are also displayed musically by using syncopes and off-beat emphasis in percussion as well as further changes in instruments.
3.) The sound of the falling rain is a cleansing moment with no movements to introduce the final section of the dance: the common neural network of regular and irregular verb processing. It is the first time that symmetrical movements occur to emphasize the common network for both verb forms. In addition, both regular and irregular movements are shown to elucidate the presence of both entities in this network.
Overall, fiber connections in the brain representing the connections between regular and irregular verbs are shown by wavy arm movements.


Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Link to full results of the 2009 AAAS Science Dance Contest.

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