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Foto: Romain Beker

Science on the dance floor: UvA investigates learning at Lowlands

Jip Koene,
5 juli 2024 - 14:08

UvA scientists are traveling to Lowlands again this year. PhD student Rosa Zaaijer came up with one of the experiments and is curious about how festival-goers learn new things. This time no test tubes or brain scans, but line dancing: “Cowboy hat on, boots on, and feet off the floor!”

UvA scientists are transforming a part of Lowlands into a veritable saloon of the Wild West. From August 16th to 18th, researchers at Lowlands Science will investigate how people learn something new most easily with the use of line dancing. The University of Amsterdam has been participating for years with a delegation of scientists. Among other things, the university did research on struvite in urine and the digital footprint of festival visitors. 



What the scientists are going to investigate exactly remains a secret, but the research revolves around how people learn something new. “All our lives we learn new things,” says PhD student Rosa Zaaijer of the Amsterdam Center for Language and Communication. “As a child you learn to tie shoelaces or put a straw in a drink pack. But adults, too, are still learning every day. Think, for example, of a new coffee machine you bought. You have to learn how it works. How the learning of new actions work exactly is what we’re curious about and we’re going to investigate at the festival.”


Zaaijer has been coming to Lowlands since she was sixteen and, twelve years later, is proudly part of the lineup herself. She came up with the experiment and submitted her idea early this year for this edition of Lowlands. “I was looking for something that is fun and connects to a music festival and doesn’t work in a laboratory setting. Then I quickly came upon learning dance moves. You’re already at a festival like this all day dancing a bit, why not for science as well?” says Zaaijer.

Foto: Romain Beker
Rosa Zaaijer instructs on dance moves

Country and line dance
For the experiment, Zaaijer chose dance steps from American line dancing. “I think country and Western music are very much up and coming. A lot of girls wear cowboy boots and Beyoncé has just released a very cool country album. Besides, line dancing fits very well with that country theme: cowboy hat on, boots on, and feet off the floor!” laughs Zaaijer. “Besides, line dancing is very easy. With one step to the left, one step to the right, some clapping above your head, and you’re already there. You can make it as difficult as you want. Salsa or tango dancing is in that respect much more complicated to learn.”
Zaaijer herself made the instructional videos that participants will watch during the experiment. In the videos, she stands in front of a green screen making all kinds of movements; from lasso throwing to gun movements. At Lowlands; a real saloon will be set up where the festival-goers will not be drinking beer, but will be the performers themselves in front of a jury of UvA researchers. “Participants must stand on a stage in the saloon in foursomes and perform their steps. The cowboy judges decide who did the best. Then they take a little test about the ones who pass.”
Booze and drugs
The researcher does not discuss the effect of alcohol consumption and other narcotics on people’s learning ability. “We’re not going to have them fill out breathalyzer tests or surveys about their consumption,” Zaaijer says. “There could be a whole rabbit hole there which is worth an entire study in itself, I think. And we are not interested in the effects of alcohol or drugs. But honestly, if you’re going to be at Lowlands to perform a study, I think you shouldn’t complain about people drinking, either, unless that’s what you want to study.”
The ultimate goal of the research is to gain more insight into people’s ability to learn. Zaaijer continues: “If we can find out what kinds of things, and yes, I am staying deliberately vague about this so as not to undermine the research, help people learn new actions, then you can develop new learning strategies or redesign existing ones in schools, in the workplace, or at home.”‘
From August 16th to 18th between noon and 8:00 p.m., the line dance experiments will take place at Lowlands Science next to the Alpha tent. In addition to line dancing, research on artificial intelligence and stress is being conducted by the UvA.

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