Joint improvisation in the arts practices: Entrainment, engagement and expert skill

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingPaper in conference proceedingpeer-review


To improvise together for the pure curiosity, joy, and beauty of it constitutes a central but often neglected ability of human beings. Integrating pragmatic, practical, and technical skills with conceptual understanding, improvisation is adaptive and collaborative. It seems made to counter the challenges of living in a fleeting present, unconstrained by physical and historical boundaries, and very likely has deep evolutionary roots. I present an account of joint improvisation in the performative arts based in reviews of empirical research in the cognitive sciences, phenomenology, neuroscience, and philosophy, using examples from modern dance and jazz music. The account may be used for generating cross-disciplinary hypotheses about improvisation for investigation within a multitude of fields and is meant to encourage interdisciplinary work and collaboration between practitioners and academic researchers. The major goal is to elucidate the interaction dynamics that underlies joint improvisation by considering the variety of processes that support sensorimotor, experiential, emotional, meta-cognitive, and collaborative forms of interaction and lead to the coordination and synchronization of behavior. I claim that improvisation is an intelligent cognitive skill associated with meta-awareness, open to monitoring and control. It involves both automatized and flexible behavior and can occur without conscious awareness. Improvising in principle is independent of verbal language and higher-order thought, but nevertheless profits from the presence of multiple converging processes.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings from A Body of Knowledge
Subtitle of host publicationEmbodied Cognition and the Arts conference 8-10 Dec 2016
EditorsSimon Penny, Kelly Donahey
Place of PublicationIrvine
PublishereScholarship University of California
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jan 15
EventA Body of Knowledge: Embodied Cognition and the Arts - Claire Trevor School of the Arts, University of California Irvine, Irvine, United States
Duration: 2016 Dec 82016 Dec 10


ConferenceA Body of Knowledge
Country/TerritoryUnited States

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Performing Art Studies
  • Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology)
  • Philosophy


  • Improvisation
  • Joint action
  • Cooperation
  • Metacognition
  • performative practices
  • Interaction
  • Dynamic systems
  • multimodal communication


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