The involvement of different neural structures in imitative learning was studied in two paradigms. In an experimental paradigm, rats observed actor rats learning spatial procedures in a water maze. After the observational training, the observers underwent a cerebellar lesion, preventing further procedural acquisitions, and then were tested in the water maze previously observed. The cerebellar networks appear to be indispensable for acquiring by imitation the spatial procedures. The procedural sequence was then dissected into the single behavioral units, demonstrating that such units do exist and can be independently acquired. By using repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), the role of the cerebellum and prefrontal cortex in imitative learning was investigated in humans. Subjects observed an actor detecting a hidden sequence in a matrix and then performed the task detecting either the previously observed sequence or a new one. Cerebellar rTMS applied before the observational training interfered with performance of the new sequence, whereas prefrontal rTMS interfered also with performance of the previously observed one. rTMS delivered after the observational training did not influence task execution. These findings indicate that the cerebellum and prefrontal cortex interact in planning actions, the former by permitting the acquisition by imitation of procedural competencies and the latter by providing flexibility among already acquired solutions.
- Prefrontal cortex
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