The effect of modeled absolute timing variability and relative timing variability on observational learning
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There is much evidence to suggest that skill learning is enhanced by skill observation. Recent research on this phenomenon indicates a benefit of observing variable/erred demonstrations. In this study, we explore whether it is variability within the relative organization or absolute parameterization of a movement that facilitates skill learning through observation. To do so, participants were randomly allocated into groups that observed a model with no variability, absolute timing variability, relative timing variability, or variability in both absolute and relative timing. All participants performed a four-segment movement pattern with specific absolute and relative timing goals prior to and following the observational intervention, as well as in a 24h retention test and transfers tests that featured new relative and absolute timing goals. Absolute timing error indicated that all groups initially acquired the absolute timing, maintained their performance at 24h retention, and exhibited performance deterioration in both transfer tests. Relative timing error revealed that the observation of no variability and relative timing variability produced greater performance at the post-test, 24h retention and relative timing transfer tests, but for the no variability group, deteriorated at absolute timing transfer test. The results suggest that the learning of absolute timing following observation unfolds irrespective of model variability. However, the learning of relative timing benefits from holding the absolute features constant, while the observation of no variability partially fails in transfer. We suggest learning by observing no variability and variable/erred models unfolds via similar neural mechanisms, although the latter benefits from the additional coding of information pertaining to movements that require a correction.
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