Watching Gestures during Learning about Movements with Dynamic Visualization Activates the Human Mirror Neuron System: A fNIRS Study


This study investigates whether viewing human gestures facilitates learning about non-human biological movements and whether correspondence between gesture and to-be-learned movement is superior to non-correspondence. Functional near-infrared-spectroscopy was used to address whether gestures activate the human mirror-neuron-system (hMNS) and whether this activation mediates the facilitation of learning. During learning participants viewed triples of visualizations (animation – gesture video – animation). Results showed that for low-visuospatial-ability learners corresponding gestures led to higher cortical activation in the inferior-frontal cortex (part of the hMNS) and better learning outcomes, whereas for high-visuospatial-ability learners the type of gesture had no influence. Furthermore, results showed that – if presented with non-corresponding gestures – only low-visuospatial-ability learners who activated their inferior-parietal cortex (also part of the hMNS), improve their learning. Thus, activating the hMNS facilitates learning about movements and stimulating the hMNS via gestures seems to be an adequate instructional strategy to enhance learning with dynamic visualizations for low-visuospatial-ability learners.

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