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The relationship between gaze and information pickup during action observation


Project description

Action observation is widely used for the teaching of motor skills, and it is increasingly being adopted in motor recovery as a means to aid relearning of previously acquired skills. It can be argued that the effectiveness of these approaches may depend upon the learner’s ability to attend to the most relevant aspects of an observed action. However, this issue has largely been neglected to date.

Four interrelated experiments were conducted to investigate the relationship between gaze behaviour and information pickup during action observation. In Study 1, we directed novices’ gaze to relevant areas of a model golfer’s body as they engaged in observational learning of the golf swing. Results showed that this accelerated learning of the golf swing compared to when the action was viewed naturally. In the remaining studies, we examined the relationship between activation in the observer’s motor cortex – regarded as an index of information extraction – and gaze behaviour. To this aim, we introduced a novel methodology involving the combined use of transcranial magnetic stimulation and eye tracking. In Studies 2 and 3, we investigated the effects of different forms of visual guidance on motor activation during viewing of finger movements and hand actions, respectively. In study 4, we recorded gaze and motor system activity as novice and skilled golfers observed videos of the golf swing. The results of these studies showed that the way in which we observe an action modulates the extent of activation in the motor system – both during observation of simple finger movements and hand actions (Studies 2 and 3), and during viewing of complex whole-body actions (Study 4). 

The present programme of research has important implications for current research and practice in the field of action observation and motor learning. Our results provide the first direct evidence of a link between eye movements and motor system activation during action observation, and the novel methodology employed in our studies may inform future research in this area. Importantly, our findings indicate that, by employing simple forms of visual guidance, we may optimise extraction of information pertaining to a viewed action, thus facilitating observational learning of motor skills. Directing visual attention may also prove to be beneficial for motor rehabilitation protocols which involve the use of action observation for the re-learning of a previously acquired motor skill. 

  • D'Innocenzo, G., Gonzalez, C. C., Williams, A. M., & Bishop, D. T. (2016). Looking to learn: The effects of visual guidance on observational learning of the golf swing. Plos One, 11(5), e0155442. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155442(https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0155442)
  • D'Innocenzo, G., Gonzalez, C. C., Nowicky, A. V., Williams, A. M., & Bishop, D. T. (2017). Motor resonance during action observation is gaze-contingent: A TMS study. Neuropsychologia, 103, 77-86. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.07.017 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28720525