Watch and learn: the cognitive neuroscience of learning from others’ actions

Richard Ramsey*, David M. Kaplan, Emily S. Cross*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


The mirror neuron system has dominated understanding of observational learning from a cognitive neuroscience perspective. Our review highlights the value of observational learning frameworks that integrate a more diverse and distributed set of cognitive and brain systems, including those implicated in sensorimotor transformations, as well as in more general processes such as executive control, reward, and social cognition. We argue that understanding how observational learning occurs in the real world will require neuroscientific frameworks that consider how visuomotor processes interface with more general aspects of cognition, as well as how learning context and action complexity shape mechanisms supporting learning from watching others.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)478-491
Number of pages14
JournalTrends in Neurosciences
Issue number6
Early online date23 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2021. Published by Elsevier Ltd. 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.


  • observational learning
  • human mirror neuron system
  • motor learning
  • motor system
  • social cognition
  • reward
  • real-world neuroscience


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