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Scientists pinpoint neural interactions that are necessary for observational learning.

It’s often said that experience is the best teacher, but the experiences of other people may be even better. If you saw a friend get chased by a neighborhood dog, for instance, you would learn to stay away from the dog without having to undergo that experience yourself.

This kind of learning, known as observational learning, offers a major evolutionary advantage, says Kay Tye, an MIT associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences and a member of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.

“So much of what we learn day-to-day is through observation,” she says. “Especially for something that is going to potentially hurt or kill you, you could imagine that the cost of learning it firsthand is very high. The ability to learn it through observation is extremely adaptive, and gives a major advantage for survival.” Original Article »