Bronwyn’s research combines her passion for dance and music with her curiosity about human nature and evolution of social behaviours. She is interested in why humans have such a longstanding love-affair with music, and the nuts and bolts behind the social benefits of taking part in musical activities.
She is currently developing collaborations with loneliness researchers, dance and music therapists, and performers to explore the benefit of group movement for mental health and well-being.
DPhil/PhD MSc BSc(Hons)
Visiting Postdoctoral Research Associate
Biography and Research
I am originally from Namibia, and moved to the UK to read towards two degrees at the University of Oxford, funded by a Rhodes Scholarship. My academic experience includes an BSc(hons) in evolutionary biology (University of Cape Town), an MSc in environmental sciences (Oxford), and a DPhil (Oxford) in social and evolutionary psychology—focussing on the evolution of dance. I am also trained in fine art, as well as classical ballet, contemporary and Latin dance. Based in Professor Robin Dunbar’s Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group, my doctoral research combined my passion for dance with my curiosity about human nature and evolution of social behaviours. My thesis centred on evolutionary theories of our species’ love-affair with music and dance. Working with people in Brazil, Oxford and Barcelona, I have researched how dancing in synchrony acts as a social glue, causing the release of endorphins and the experience of a collective ‘high’.
My research has implications for a range of topics, including human sociality, well-being and dance movement therapy. I am also more broadly interested in work relating to mirror neurons, educational psychology, and anthropological accounts of group rituals (particularly those involving music and dance).
I am currently developing collaborations with loneliness researchers, dance and music therapists, and performers to explore the benefit of group movement for mental health and well-being.
Toward inclusive theories of the evolution of musicality.
Savage PE. et al, (2021), Behav Brain Sci, 44
Synchrony and social connection in immersive Virtual Reality.
Tarr B. et al, (2018), Sci Rep, 8
Social Bonding Through Dance and ‘Musiking’
Tarr B., (2017), Distributed Agency, 151 - 158
Synchrony as an Adaptive Mechanism for Large-Scale Human Social Bonding
Launay J. et al, (2016), ETHOLOGY, 122, 779 - 789
Silent disco: dancing in synchrony leads to elevated pain thresholds and social closeness.
Tarr B. et al, (2016), Evol Hum Behav, 37, 343 - 349
Media Experience and Public Engagement
A believer in Open Science, Bronwyn has delivered a number of interactive public talks, Café Scientifique lectures, spoken on radio and podcasts, worked on screen as a Scientific consultant for BBC's ' Make Wales Happy' television production, and written popular science articles on her research. She has also written and developed a documentary series concept – ‘Musical Planet’ – which celebrates and explores humankind’s pervasive love-affair with music and dance.
A recent short video by Aeon on her work: 'Dance, dance evolution'
A podcast and video: BBC World Service Crowd Science: ‘Why do Humans Dance’
A filmed popular science talk: Keynote speaker at Rhodes Retreat on Service and Leadership: ‘Science and Social Cooperation’
PRX podcast: PRX podcast: ‘Dance, it’s only human’
A popular science article: ‘Let’s Dance! Synchronised movement helps us tolerate pain and foster friendship’