How shall i count the ways? A method for quantifying the qualitative aspects of unscripted movement with Laban Movement Analysis

Rachelle Palnick Tsachor, Tal Shafir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is significant clinical evidence showing that creative and expressive movement processes involved in dance/movement therapy (DMT) enhance psycho-social well-being. Yet, because movement is a complex phenomenon, statistically validating which aspects of movement change during interventions or lead to significant positive therapeutic outcomes is challenging because movement has multiple, overlapping variables appearing in unique patterns in different individuals and situations. One factor contributing to the therapeutic effects of DMT is movement's effect on clients' emotional states. Our previous study identified sets of movement variables which, when executed, enhanced specific emotions. In this paper, we describe how we selected movement variables for statistical analysis in that study, using a multi-stage methodology to identify, reduce, code, and quantify the multitude of variables present in unscripted movement. We suggest a set of procedures for using Laban Movement Analysis (LMA)-described movement variables as research data. Our study used LMA, an internationally accepted comprehensive system for movement analysis, and a primary DMT clinical assessment tool for describing movement. We began with Davis's (1970) three-stepped protocol for analyzing movement patterns and identifying the most important variables: (1) We repeatedly observed video samples of validated (Atkinson et al., 2004) emotional expressions to identify prevalent movement variables, eliminating variables appearing minimally or absent. (2) We use the criteria repetition, frequency, duration and emphasis to eliminate additional variables. (3) For each emotion, we analyzed motor expression variations to discover how variables cluster: first, by observing ten movement samples of each emotion to identify variables common to all samples; second, by qualitative analysis of the two best-recognized samples to determine if phrasing, duration or relationship among variables was significant. We added three new steps to this protocol: (4) we created Motifs (LMA symbols) combining movement variables extracted in steps 1-3; (5) we asked participants in the pilot study to move these combinations and quantify their emotional experience. Based on the results of the pilot study, we eliminated more variables; (6) we quantified the remaining variables' prevalence in each Motif for statistical analysis that examined which variables enhanced each emotion. We posit that our method successfully quantified unscripted movement data for statistical analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number572
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberMAR
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Tsachor and Shafir.


  • Bodily emotional expressions
  • Dance/movement therapy
  • Laban Movement Analysis
  • Laban/Bartenieff Movement System
  • Motion analysis
  • Movement
  • Movement quality
  • Non-verbal behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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