Missing a turnoff when driving is an annoyance, but for some of us, it's just as irritating to be stuck in the passenger seat watching the driver make a mistake. The same brain region is active both when people make errors and when they watch other people making errors, reports a new paper in the May issue of Nature Neuroscience. These findings can help us understand how we learn, not just from the consequences of our own behavior, but also by observing what happens to other people.
Hein van Schie and colleagues measured electrical signals from frontal brain regions while people looked at an arrow briefly flashed on a screen and tried to judge which direction it was pointing. After each trial, the subjects were told whether they were correct or not. When people realize that they've made an error, a distinctive electrical signal is known to arise from a brain region called the anterior cingulate cortex. The researchers found that the same brain error signal was also present when the subjects simply watched another person make mistakes in the same task.
By showing that the brain encodes not only one's own mistakes, but also those of others, these findings may shed light on how people can learn by observing other people.
Hein van Schie
University of Nijmegen
Tel: +31 24 361 5593
Also available online.
(C) Nature Neuroscience press release.
Message posted by: Trevor M. D'Souza