Action observation supports effector-dependent learning of finger movement sequences.
Osman M., Bird G., Heyes C.
Practising a motor skill can result in effector-dependent learning (learning that does not transfer from the set of muscles used in training to a new set of muscles). Proceeding from neurophysiological evidence of motor activation during action observation, this study asked whether observational learning, learning through observation of skilled performance, can also be effector-dependent. Adult human participants observed a model's right hand as the model responded to an eight-item sequence in a serial reaction time (SRT) task. Their sequence learning was then compared in two tests with that of controls who had observed the model's right hand responding to random targets during training. All participants performed the SRT task with their right hand in the first test and with their left hand in the second. Evidence of observational learning was obtained in the right hand test but not in the left hand test. This implies that sequence learning based on observation of right hand performance did not transfer to the left hand, and therefore that observational learning can support effector-dependent learning of finger movement sequences. A second experiment used the same procedure to assess learning by a group of participants who observed a sequence of response locations only. This group did not observe the model's responses. Results suggested that action observation was necessary for the effector-dependent observational learning demonstrated in Experiment 1.