Artists rendition of a nerve cell

As others go through different experiences, we can sometimes learn from watching their example. Researchers have long explained that we experience social understanding, meaning that in order to learn by watching, we need to first know what the other person is doing or experiencing by recognizing our own emotions and needs from those of others.

But what is going on in the brain during this process? Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine believe it is related to memory recall and have identified, in rats, activity patterns supporting this idea.

The findings are published online in the current edition of Neuron.

“We recorded the brain activity of a rat familiar with a certain maze or trajectory, as it watched another rat run the same maze, receiving rewards at different points. We found that the brain activity during this process is similar to memory recall,” said Dr. Daoyun Ji, professor of neuroscience at Baylor and lead author of the study.

“The actual replay during or right after the observation is different from the brain activity of self-learning. It is a different type of activity pattern and activation.”

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