We use an array of interdisciplinary approaches to study the relationship between rhythmic structures in music, the desire to move the body to the beat, and the experience of pleasure. Our methodologies include motion-capture recording, functional magnetic resonance imaging, subjective report, cross-cultural comparison and music analysis. Our analysis is grounded in theories of embodied and enactive cognition, treating dance and groove experience as dynamically distributed between the music, the body, the brain and the environment.
Our studies have shown that listeners most want to move and experience the most pleasure in relation to musical rhythms that are neither too complex nor too simple. This ‘goldilocks zone’ of rhythmic complexity creates a balanced rhythm that is just complex enough to create tension and interest yet still regular enough to enable repetitive movement and dance. In the brain, this medium level of rhythmic complexity correlates with activity in areas that are associated with both motor and reward processing.
Understood from the perspective of embodied cognition, medium rhythmic complexity in groove invites listeners and dancers to fill in the beats with their body movements. Moving to the beat of rhythmically complex music affords the experience of physically occupying parts of the musical structure. In this way, enacting musical groove on the dance floor can give rise to a cognitively, socially and affectively distributed atmosphere – or vibe – where sonic, bodily, neural and environmental processes dynamically interact.