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DurationApril 2012–open-ended
FundingIWM Budget Resources
Project description

This project investigates the idea that the activation of specific areas in the brain is beneficial for learning about continuous processes with dynamic visualizations. These areas in the brain (the so-called human mirror-neuron-system) are used to understand and imitate actions of other persons. We addressed, whether gestures that correspond or do not correspond to the to-be-learned processes, activate the mirror-neuron-system and enhance learning outcomes.

The mirror-neuron-system is typically activated by human movements, but may be more generally used to also represent other biological or even non-biological movements (if these movements can be anthropomorphized by the observer). In the domain of learning about continuous processes, one effective instructional strategy to activate the mirror-neuron-system might be to show learners not only the to-be-learned processes, but also human gestures displaying the to-be-learned dynamics in order to trigger an anthropomorphized encoding. It has already been shown that the production of such gestures during learning is beneficial for acquiring knowledge. We investigated in in a series of studies using neurophysiological methods (i.e., functional near-infrared-spectroscopy [fNIRS]) whether showing gesture-based interventions is really beneficial to acquire knowledge about continuous processes. Therefore, we showed either gestures that correspond to the to-be-learned biological movement patterns or gestures that do not correspond to the to-be-learned biological movement patterns. First results indicate that particularly non-corresponding gestures entail unexpected potential. Particularly, learners with high visuospatial ability from these non-corresponding gestures. Also, learners with low visuospatial ability can benefit from these non-corresponding gestures, if they activate a certain area of the mirror-neuron-system – the inferior-parietal cortex. Further studies address these relations in more detail.


Ann-Christine Ehlis, Department of Psychiatry & Psychotherapy, University Hospital Tuebingen, Calwerstr. 14, 72076 Tuebingen


Brucker, B., Ehlis, A.-C., Häußinger, F.B., Fallgatter, A.J., & Gerjets, P. (2015). Watching corresponding gestures facilitates learning with animations by activating human mirror-neurons: An fNIRS study. Learning and Instruction, 36, 27-37.

Imhof, B., Ehlis, A.-C., Häußinger, F. B., & Gerjets, P. (2013). Watching gestures during learning about movements with dynamic visualization activates the human mirror neuron system: A fNIRS study. In M. Knauff, M. Pauen, N. Sebanz, & I. Wachsmuth (Eds.), Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 2608-2613). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

Brucker, B., de Koning, B., Ehlis, A.-C., Rosenbaum, D., & Gerjets, P. (2017). Watching Non-Corresponding Gestures Helps Learners with High Visuospatial Ability to Learn about Movements with Dynamic Visualizations: An fNIRS Study. In G. Gunzelmann, A.Howes, T. Tenbrink, & E. Davelaar (Eds.), Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. xx-xx). London, UK: Cognitive Science Society.


Dr. Birgit Brucker Dr. Birgit Brucker
Tel.: +49 7071 979-222