Passive, Active Learning Affect Brain Similarly
> 7/17/2008 11:12:26 AM

Learning through observation may be an effective way to improve motor skills following a neurological injury or illness, according to a study conducted by researchers from Dartmouth College. Their work, which appears in the journal Cerebral Cortex, demonstrates that passive, observational learning of a motor activity has a similar effect on brain activity as active, hands-on learning.

The study’s 17 participants played a video game that required them to study sequences of dance steps set to music. For five days, they used both a visual and a physical method to accomplish this task, practicing one dance sequence daily while observing a second one for the same amount of time. Using brain imagining technology, the researchers then examined how these learning strategies influenced patterns of brain activity, finding strong similarities between the effects of both. When subjects viewed either the dance sequence they had rehearsed or the one they had watched, regions of their brain known as the action observation network became active. Located mostly in the parietal lobe and the premotor cortex, which is in the frontal lobe, these brain areas control motor skills and memory. When the subjects were then presented with a third, unfamiliar set of dance steps, the activity in these brain areas diminished.

These results indicate that active and passive learning strategies activate the same neural pathway within the brain, and though passive approaches to learning may sometimes seem inadequate, they can be valuable in certain situations. Physicians and therapists can use what we know about the action observation network to help individuals who have suffered a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or some other condition that has affected their cognitive and physical abilities. Past research has shown that a combination of physical training and observation can be an effective way to aid an individual’s recovery, as both techniques can reinforce knowledge of and competence in a specific skill.

This study was small, and researchers should continue to investigate how the action observation network impacts our ability to learn. The same brain areas become active both when we watch and when we perform a physical task, and continued research may lead to new and effective techniques that aid in recovery from a neurological condition. We may not have to actively practice physical activities in order to improve our motor skills, as this study indicates, and by utilizing both passive and active approaches to learning, we may be able to help many who have struggled to overcome the loss of physical abilities.


No comments yet.

Post Your Comments

Post a comment
Email Address:
Verification Code:
Input the 8 characters you see above:


Drug Abuse
Sexual Addiction
Eating Disorders
Alzheimer's Disease

About TOL | Contact Us | Defining Behavioral Fitness | For Healthcare Professionals | Links | Privacy Policy