Common coding theory suggests that any action (pressing a piano key) is intimately linked with its resultant sensory effect (an auditory musical tone). We conducted two experiments to explore the effect of varying auditory action-effect patterns during complex action learning. In Experiment 1, participants were assigned to 1 of 4 groups, watched a silent video of a hand playing a sequence on a piano keyboard with no auditory action effect (observation) and were asked to practise and perform the sequence on an identical keyboard with varying action effects (reproduction). During reproduction, Group 1 heard no auditory tones (identical to observed video), Group 2 heard typical scale-ascending piano tones with each key press, Group 3 heard fixed but out-of-sequence piano tones with each key press, and Group 4 heard random piano tones with each key press. In Experiment two, new participants were assigned to 1 of 2 groups and watched an identical video; however, the video in this experiment contained typical, scale-ascending piano sounds. During reproduction, Group 1 heard no auditory tones while Group 2 heard typical, scale-ascending piano tones with each key press (identical to observed video). Our results showed that participants whose action-effect patterns during reproduction matched those in the observed video learned the action sequence faster than participants whose action-effect patterns during reproduction differed from those in the observed video. Additionally, our results suggest that adding an effect during reproduction (when one is absent during observation) is somewhat more detrimental to action sequence learning than removing an effect during reproduction (when one is present during observation).
Keywords: Action observation and execution; Action–effect association; Common coding theory; Observational learning; Stimulus–response compatibility.