Our Scientific Research

Over the last three years we have been collaborating with Professor Antonia Hamilton, Professor of Social Neuroscience at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience UCL and Dr Jamie A Ward at Goldsmiths, using the Hunter Heartbeat games to develop and explore the neuroscience of the imagination.

Deconstructing the Dream

In May 2019 at the Bloomsbury Theatre London we collaborated to create Deconstructing the Dream – our first theatrical performance with artists and scientists exploring the neuroscience of the imagination. These performances included the world’s first scanning of an actor’s brain live on stage.

Find out more… 

Science and Shakespeare: Using the Hunter Heartbeat games for scientific research

“By observing how the brain behaves in certain social interactions, we want to find behavioural therapies that can make autistic children more comfortable when interacting with people.”

Shimadzu. Science and Shakespeare – Read HERE

“One of the major challenges I face as a neuroscientist is making my research in the lab relate to and apply to the issues people face in their everyday lives outside the lab. Working with Flute Theatre has given us new ways to collect neuroscientific data on dynamic social interactions both in actors and in young people with autism. For the first time, we have been able to see into the brains of actors as they perform on stage and begin to understand the neural mechanisms of performance. We have also been able to use wearable sensors to track how children with autism engage with actors during Flute’s participatory productions. This will allow us to understand how autistic children can benefit from these activities and to bridge the gap between scientific theories of autism and the practical tools that can help autistic children with social engagement. I look forward to continuing these collaborations in order to advance our research in social neuroscience and support more young people with autism”

Professor Antonia Hamilton


The Hunter Heartbeat games are all short, fun to play and crucially they are repeatable. It is within this essential repetition that the people with autism who are taking part can form the habit of playing; their anxiety may begin to be alleviated and they may start to explore their communicative playfulness. This built in repetition creates a perfect opportunity for scientific experimentation, allowing neuroscientists to ask what may be happening in the brain when we are communicating? In Spring 2019, as part of our preparations for Deconstructing the Dream, the actors played the games together in a controlled environment; they were fitted with fNIR caps so that Antonia and her team could collect data from their brains as they were playing. First here is a clip showing the game being played in a workshop situation with actors and people with autism.


The art

This video clip shows Paul and Daniel playing our Cobweb and Bee game during Flute Dreams 2018. This game is derived from deep inside Bottom’s dream when he speaks to the fairy named Cobweb…

“Good monsieur… get you your weapons in your hand and kill me that red hipped humble bee” – Bottom AMSND

For this game, we use no spoken language. The game uses the language of the body culminating in an extended hug. One person plays Cobweb, the other plays the Bee. Their physicalities are very different. Cobweb is slow and powerful, making a smacking noise with his lips while the bee is light and fast and makes a buzzing sound. There are two moments of high drama. The first when the bee is initially trapped and the second when the bee is “hugged to death with love”. This clip shows Daniel – playing with his mother – taking initiative by the end of the second round.

Kelly Hunter MBE

The science

This video clip show patterns of brain activity in actors performing the roles of Cobweb / Bee in rehearsal. In this scene, Cobweb catches the Bee and then releases it. The actors performed the same roles repeatedly (shown in the little videos on the left) so that we could identify systematic changes in their brain activity. The brain images on the right show the average activity patterns we recorded from the frontal cortex of the brain (red = more brain activity). Surprisingly, the two actors show very similar patterns of activity despite performing different physical movements. This may reflect the close coordination between the actors required for this scene, and further analyses of the data are underway.

Professor Antonia Hamilton


The art

This video clip shows Kelly, Josh and Kourosh playing our Titania and Bottom game during Flute Dreams 2018. Kelly and Kourosh are playing Titania, Josh is playing Bottom. At the heart of the game is a moment of extended eye contact, when the tricked eyes of TItania meet the confused eyes of Bottom. At that moment, Titania makes a comical ‘eyes on stalks’ moment making a cartoon like sound – ‘Doyoyoying’ – to alleviate the potential struggle that making eye contact might entail for the person with autism. Kourosh was playing the game in a perfect rhythmic sync with Josh. This is one of the first Hunter Heartbeat games.

Kelly Hunter MBE

The Science

This video clip shows patterns of brain activity in actors performing the roles of Bottom and Titania in rehearsal. In this scene, Titania declares her love for Bottom who turns away. As before, the actors performed the same roles repeatedly and we examined the average patterns of brain activity over all the repeats. Both characters show activation of in the middle regions of the prefrontal cortex (linked to social interaction) at the moment of eye contact. We are now analysing the data from other pairs of actors performing the same scene to test for the same effects.

Professor Antonia Hamilton


In 2018, during a series of Flute Theatre’s performances of A Midsummer Nights Dream for young people with autism at The Bridge Theatre, London, Dr Jamie Ward developed an exploratory study using wearables that let us uncover previously unobserved moments of social engagement in some of the children.

Dr Jamie A Ward describes the synchronicity between actors and children with autism:

Read the full study here – SENSING INTERPERSONAL SYNCHRONY, Dr Jamie Ward