Why Children Dance the Best

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Originally posted on July 2, 2015.

Not long ago, I enjoyed one of my favorite summer pastimes. With a close friend, I attended a Major League Baseball game. My team got clobbered, it rained, and I forgot to bring home the free Johnny Bench bobble head doll that I drove 90 minutes to get. But the trip was worth it because I witnessed something that borders on magic: kids dancing without a care in the world.

Whether they dazzle 25,000 spectators on a giant screen or an impromptu dance party in the living room, kids know how to get down. They often lack skill, grace, and sensitivity. But none of that matters. Feelings are facts, and kids know the definition of dancing is fun.

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Why does dancing lose its appeal? According to recent research, a better question is when does dancing become a downer? The decline of dance starts when we develop what is called a theory of mind, that pesky ability to infer another person’s mental states. A theory of mind lets the trick-or-treater know that the person underneath the mask isn’t really a goblin and what might make a parent buy a desired toy. A theory of mind also helps us think of how others judge our dancing. And that, my friends, is when dancing stops being so fun.

The upside is that there’s never of shortage of young people who haven’t gotten wise to how goofy dancing makes them look. This weekend I’ll go back to watch my team play. The kids will dance, the adults will laugh, and we’ll all enjoy a relaxing evening.

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About the Author
C. Nathan DeWall is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Social Psychology Lab at the University of Kentucky. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from St. Olaf College, a Master’s Degree in Social Science from the University of Chicago, and a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Florida State University. DeWall received the 2011 College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award, which recognizes excellence in undergraduate and graduate teaching. In 2011, the Association for Psychological Science identified DeWall as a “Rising Star” for “making significant contributions to the field of psychological science.”