Experience is our best teacher. Young children use this process in a natural way. It’s how they learn how to walk, speak, play, how to read facial expressions, and so on. Learning by observation, also known as observational learning is the process of learning by watching others. In this way, you retain information, and after you replicate the information and behaviors to your advantage. This kind of learning gives us a major evolutionary advantage.
Which Brain Circuits Help Us Learn While Watching Others?
Many species are able to learn by observing others. It’s known for some time that individuals can learn by interacting with the environment. In this way, they can observe the difference between predicted and obtained outcomes.
While we are learning by observation, two parts of the brain are activated. These are the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and basolateral amygdala (BLA). While ACC evaluates social information, BLA plays a key role in processing emotions. The circuit used for learning from firsthand experiences will rely on input from a part of the brain responsible for interpreting social cues.
How learning by observation can help your personal development?
Learning by observing is a subconscious process that occurs naturally in social situations. This habit is usually driven by our need to “fit in”. In this case, we adapt our behavior to match the actions and needs of others. This is has a huge role in our socialization process. In this way, you learn how to behave in different social environments.
The true power of this process appears while we are making it in a conscious manner. To do this, you need to understand how it works, but in a simple to understand manner. In this way, you can use it to help you in your personal and professional development.
How it works?
Observational learning is a 4 step process:
- Attention : at this step you notice something in your environment. During this phase you must be in the right mindset in order to remain focused on the object of your observance.
- Retention: you recall what you notice. If you aren’t able to retain then you must return to the first step.
- Reproduction: you copy or mimic that what you have observed. At this step everyone will have their own way of imitating certain behaviors. Some of them may not be copied easily even with perfect focus and recall and need more time, exercise or other skills or knowledge.
- Motivation: you need it in order to have the will to actually put the new behavior to use. If you lack motivation, even though you’ve learned a new behavior by observing, it isn’t likely that you will actually put it to use.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you’ve used observation in order to learn how to meditate. You’ve used attention in order to learn how to do it. The retention you’ve used in order to recall the necessary steps. You’ve reproduced that meditation in order to use it and to understand it on your own body, but you lack motivation. If that is the case then it’s most likely that you will not follow through with this new behavior.
In order to use to the max the power of learning by observation, then you must go thru all the steps. This powerful skill can be used to observe your mind, analyse and break bad habits, learn new skills and so on.
While observational learning can be very useful in our day to day life, it can be also a destructive force. Why? Well just consider all the bad habits we saw as kids, every one of them impacted us in one way or another and determined some of our bad habits from our present life. We also adopt some of the behavior we see at TV or on social media.
If we leave this skill as an automatic process, then it’s probably that we will not use the benefits it can offer us. Choose to make it as a conscious decision and use it to the max!
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