Motor learning by observation: evidence from a serial reaction time task

Q J Exp Psychol A. 2002 Apr;55(2):593-607. doi: 10.1080/02724980143000389.


This study sought evidence of observational motor learning, a type of learning in which observation of the skilled performance of another person not only facilitates motor skill acquisition but does so by contributing to the formation of effector-specific motor representations. Previous research has indicated that observation of skilled performance engages cognitive processes similar to those occurring during action execution or physical practice, but has not demonstrated that these include processes involved in effector-specific representation. In two experiments, observer subjects watched the experimenter performing a serial reaction time (SRT) task with a six-item unique sequence before sequence knowledge was assessed by response time and/or free generation measures. The results suggest that: (1) subjects can acquire sequence information by watching another person performing the task (Experiments 1-2); (2) observation results in as much sequence learning as task practice when learning is measured by reaction times (RTs) and more than task practice when sequence learning is measured by free generation performance (Experiment 2, Part 1); and (3) sequence knowledge acquired by model observation can be encoded motorically--that is, in an effector-specific fashion (Experiment 2, Part 2).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior*
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Reaction Time*
  • Serial Learning*
  • Transfer, Psychology