Their experiments indicate that subjects who watched a video depicting a person learning a motor skill would engage their neural systems for movement planning and control, and that the subjects would construct a neural representation of the mechanical requirements of the task.
"A powerful new idea in neuroscience links motor control with action observation," wrote Mattar and Gribble. "When we observe the actions of others, we activate the same neural circuitry responsible for planning and executing our own actions." In their experiments, the researchers tested "the intriguing possibility that such a system linking observation and action could facilitate motor learning."
In the experiments, the researchers asked subjects to move a handle that was part of a robotic device to guide an on-screen cursor to targets. They then divided the subjects into groups who watched videos of a person learning to operate the device when the handle was subject to either a clockwise or counterclockwise force field. A third group was simply asked to rest and watch nothing. The subjects were not told about the forces or their roles in the experiment.
The researchers found that, compared to subjects who watched nothing, those who observed the video of the "clockwise force field" learning performed significantly better when they themselves had to operate the device under a clockwise force. Importantly, those who had watched the "counterclockwise force field" video performed worse than those who watched nothing.