Learning to tie the knot: the acquisition of functional object representations by physical and observational experience

Emily S. Cross*, Antonia F. de C. Hamilton, Nichola Rice Cohen, Scott T. Grafton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
35 Downloads (Pure)


Here we examined neural substrates for physically and observationally learning to construct novel objects, and characterized brain regions associated with each kind of learning using fMRI. Each participant was assigned a training partner, and for five consecutive days practiced tying one group of knots (“tied” condition) or watched their partner tie different knots (“watched” condition) while a third set of knots remained untrained. Functional MRI was obtained prior to and immediately following the week of training while participants performed a visual knot-matching task. After training, a portion of left superior parietal lobule demonstrated a training by scan session interaction. This means this parietal region responded selectively to knots that participants had physically learned to tie in the post-training scan session but not the pre-training scan session. A conjunction analysis on the post-training scan data showed right intraparietal sulcus and right dorsal premotor cortex to respond when viewing images of knots from the tied and watched conditions compared to knots that were untrained during the post-training scan session. This suggests that these brain areas track both physical and observational learning. Together, the data provide preliminary evidence of engagement of brain regions associated with hand-object interactions when viewing objects associated with physical experience, and with observational experience without concurrent physical practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0185044
Number of pages24
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2017. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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