Watch how to do it! New advances in learning by observation

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2003 Jun;42(3):252-64. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0173(03)00176-0.


Recent data demonstrate that the cerebellum contributes to the internal representation of action. This representation is used not only to generate motor actions, but also to understand and learn the actions and skills of others by imitation. The cerebellar networks appear to be indispensable for acquiring complex behaviors and procedures. The cerebellar role in the acquisition of procedural competencies is particularly evident in spatial information processing. The cerebellum allows acquiring by observation competencies in exploration behaviors as efficient as the competencies acquired by actually performing the same task. The specificity of the cerebellar role in the acquisition phases of learning by observation is demonstrated by the complete absence of spatial learning when the observational training is performed in presence of a cerebellar lesion. This datum is further corroborated by the evidence that, once acquired, spatial procedures can be efficiently performed even in the presence of cerebellar damage, in agreement with the neuroimaging findings of low cerebellar activation after prolonged practice. The finding that the cerebellum is involved in procedural acquisition and in observational learning allowed us to dissect a complex behavior into single behavioral units forming a complete procedural sequence, demonstrating that such behavioral units do exist and can be independently acquired.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebellum / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebellum / physiology
  • Exploratory Behavior
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Motor Activity
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Observation / methods*