Often learning new skills, such as how to throw a basketball or how to play the piano, are better accomplished practicing with another than from self-practice. Why? We propose that during joint action, partners learn to adjust their behavior to each other. For example, when dancing with a partner, we must adjust the timing, the force, and the spatial locations of movements to those of the partner. We call these adjustments a joint body schema (JBS). That is, the locations of our own effectors and our own movements are adapted by interaction with the partner. Furthermore, we propose that after a JBS is established, learning new motor skills can be enhanced by the learner's attunement to the specifics of the partner's actions. We test this proposal by having partners engage in a motor task requiring cooperation (to develop the JBS). Then we determined whether a) the JBS enhances the coordination on an unrelated task, and b) whether the JBS enhances the learning of a new motor skill. In fact, participants who established a JBS showed stronger coordination with a partner and better motor learning from the partner than did control participants. Several applications of this finding are discussed.
- Does Adapting the Body Schema to a Partner Facilitate Motor Learning?