Observing and learning complex actions

on the example of guitar playing

Tom Gardner*, Emily S. Cross

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


With very little effort or thought, we can understand the goals and intentions of other people we encounter in our daily lives through watching their movements. In this chapter, we discuss the action observation network (AON), which is thought to be a key player in linking action perception, production, and understanding. We focus on two prominent theories of AON function and detail how different kinds of experience (namely, physical and visual experience) shape AON engagement. We then highlight work done by our laboratory and others that uses complex guitar and dance training paradigms to trace the emergence of experience-dependent plasticity in the human brain and behavior. This work highlights common and distinct neural signatures of visual and visuomotor learning and how such training paradigms can help to adjudicate between competing theories of AON function. The use of cutting edge methodological techniques is also evaluated, and we conclude with some considerations of implications for musicians and dancers and future directions for this research.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of human motion
EditorsBertram Müller, Sebastian I. Wolf, Gert-Peter Brüggemann, Zhigang Deng, Andrew S. McIntosh, Freeman Miller, W. Scott Selbie
Place of PublicationCham, Switzerland
PublisherSpringer, Springer Nature
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9783319144184
ISBN (Print)9783319144177
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • predictive coding
  • action observation
  • AON
  • direct matching
  • familiarity
  • physical learning
  • visual learning
  • dance
  • music
  • guitar
  • expertise

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