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This study focuses on how three negatively-valenced emotions are expressed in music and dance: grief, melancholy, and fear. Previous research has suggested that grief may act as an overt, social emotion, while fear and melancholy may act as covert, self-directed emotions (Huron, 2015). That is, grief may function to solicit assistance from others, whereas fear and melancholy may function to improve one’s own situational prospects. We hypothesize that there are more prosocial interactions in dance while expressing grief compared to melancholy and fear.
Four members of a professional dance troupe were recorded dancing together, with and without music, in response to prompts of melancholy, grief, and fear. In three studies, we investigate how viewers perceive emotions in dance, music, and multimodal (dance and music) performances. In the first study, we code the amount that dancers touched each other during responses to each prompt. In the second study, we test the idea that viewers perceive more sociality among the dancers in grief prompts than in melancholy and fear prompts. Finally, we perform a content analysis of interviews with the dancers, which may suggest that they were intending to be more prosocial while expressing grief as compared to melancholy and fear.