Observational Learning

When learning a new task, from something as simple as tying one’s shoes to the intricate and skilled movements of heart surgery, we learn by observing others from young childhood through to old age. Researchers from a number of disciplines suggest that observational learning shares many common features with physical learning. The aim of our research is to map areas of overlap and divergence between physical and observational learning at behavioural and brain levels.

To date, we have looked at such questions using a simple dance learning paradigm, as well as a paradigm where participants learn to tie knots. Most of our paradigms have employed within-subjects designs so that we may parse the neural signatures of physical and observational practice within the same participants. To date, we have found striking overlap between both kinds of practice within sensorimotor brain regions. Future work will aim to more precisely characterize how representations of both kinds of practice develop throughout the learning process.

Selected Publications:
Gardner, T., Aglinskas, A. & Cross, E. S. (2017). Using guitar learning to probe the Action Observation Network's response to visuomotor familiarity. Neuroimage, 156, 174-189.

Sumanapala, D. K., Fish, L. A., Jones, A. & Cross, E. S. (2017). Have I grooved to this before? Discriminating practised and observed actions in a novel context. Acta Psychologica, 175, 42-49.

Kirsch, L. P. & Cross, E. S. (2015). Additive routes to action learning: Layering experience shapes engagement of the action observation network. Cerebral Cortex, 25, 4799-4811.

Cross, E. S. (2012). Observational learning of complex motor skills. In N. Seel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning (Part 15). Springer Press, Heidelberg, pp. 2491-2493.

Cross, E. S., Kraemer, D. J. M., Hamilton, A. F. de C., Kelley, W. M., & Grafton, S. T. (2009).  Sensitivity of the action observation network to physical and observational learning.  Cerebral Cortex, 19(2), 315-326.