skip to content

Faculty of Economics

Journal Cover

Burke, C.J., Tobler, P. N., Baddeley, M. and Schultz, W.,

Neural mechanisms of observational learning

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Vol. 107(636UDTimes Cited:6Cited References Count:38) no. 32 (2010)

Abstract: Individuals can learn by interacting with the environment and experiencing a difference between predicted and obtained outcomes (prediction error). However, many species also learn by observing the actions and outcomes of others. In contrast to individual learning, observational learning cannot be based on directly experienced outcome prediction errors. Accordingly, the behavioral and neural mechanisms of learning through observation remain elusive. Here we propose that human observational learning can be explained by two previously uncharacterized forms of prediction error, observational action prediction errors (the actual minus the predicted choice of others) and observational outcome prediction errors (the actual minus predicted outcome received by others). In a functional MRI experiment, we found that brain activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex respectively corresponded to these two distinct observational learning signals.

Author links:

Publisher's Link:

Papers and Publications

Recent Publications

Carvalho, V. M. and Grassi, B. Large Firm Dynamics and the Business Cycle American Economic Review [2019]

Elliott, M. and Golub, B. A Network Approach to Public Goods Journal of Political Economy [2019]

Agranov, M. and Elliott, M. Commitment and (in) Efficiency: A Bargaining Experiment Journal of the European Economic Association [2020]

Brendon, C., Paustian, M. and Yates, T. Self-Fulfilling Recessions at the Zero Lower Bound Journal of Monetary Economics [2019]