At Resolving Chronic Pain we know that moving your body in any way is good for you, and that dancing is a particularly helpful activity. Studies have shown that dancing can increase certain cognitive skills including visual and spatial recognition, long-term memory and executive function. But could specific forms of dancing be applied to specific, real-world problems in order to achieve better results? Could doing the hand jive help you solve mental maths problems more quickly? Dance psychologist Dr Peter Lovatt believes it can.
Dr Lovatt has spent years researching the link between dancing and problem solving. A Reader in Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, Dr Lovatt set up a Dance Psychology Lab at the university in 2008. He had previously been a professional dancer, having trained at the Guildford School of Acting and Dancing and performing in musical theatre, ballet and tap. As a child he had experienced severe reading difficulties, and had found it easier to communicate through dance.
As well as showing that dancing can cause people to think and solve problems more quickly, Dr Lovatt has done research into what specific kinds of dancing can best speed up different types of thinking.
Convergent problems are those with a correct answer - you might be trying to do mental maths, remember a specific date or solve a puzzle. According to Dr Lovatt’s research, performing structured, predictable dance moves can help you solve convergent problems more quickly. This could be a set dance routine, something like the Macarena, or even just a simple hand jive.
Conversely, divergent problems have more than one specific answer, and involve thinking about a range of ideas and solutions. This might be a brainstorm, or an answer to questions like ‘what should I do with my weekend’ or ‘how can I move my career forward.’ In order to solve these problems, Dr Lovatt recommends unpredictable dance. His research has shown that improvised, random dance moves can make someone solve divergent problems more quickly.
He told LSN global: “What we’ve found is that the way people move their body influences their ability to solve convergent thinking problems or divergent thinking problems. So very directly the way you move will influence how you think. And if you take that out of the lab, you can apply it in the real world [...] What we’ve shown is that when you get people to move their bodies, very easily, in different ways, it changes the way people think. And of course if you can get people to change the way they think, they can break away from their set patterns of thinking.”
Dr Lovatt has also done research into the power of dance to improve self esteem, and he told the Guardian that relaxed dancing without an emphasis on ‘doing it right’ is the best for improving self esteem. He suggests ceilidh dancing “where people smile, laugh and giggle, and they are adults and it’s absolutely fine. It’s wonderful.” He adds: “There have also been studies that have found that dancing in baggy “jazz” clothing is better than tight-fitting clothing for the dancer’s self-esteem.”
While I might not find myself doing the hand jive in the supermarket while adding up the bill anytime soon, it’s fascinating to think about how the way you move is deeply entwined with how you think and feel - sometimes in unexpected ways!