Biological mechanisms for observational learning

Ioana Carcea, Robert C. Froemke

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Observational learning occurs when an animal capitalizes on the experience of another to change its own behavior in a given context. This form of learning is an efficient strategy for adapting to changes in environmental conditions, but little is known about the underlying neural mechanisms. There is an abundance of literature supporting observational learning in humans and other primates, and more recent studies have begun documenting observational learning in other species such as birds and rodents. The neural mechanisms for observational learning depend on the species’ brain organization and on the specific behavior being acquired. However, as a general rule, it appears that social information impinges on neural circuits for direct learning, mimicking or enhancing neuronal activity patterns that function during pavlovian, spatial or instrumental learning. Understanding the biological mechanisms for social learning could boost translational studies into behavioral interventions for a wide range of learning disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)178-185
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent Opinion in Neurobiology
StatePublished - Feb 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)


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