While learning from an instructor by watching a ‘how-to’ video has become common practice, we know surprisingly little about the relation between brain activities in instructor and observers. In this fMRI study we investigated the temporal synchronization between instructor and observers using intersubject correlation in the naturalistic setting of learning to fold origami. Brain activity of the blindfolded instructor during action production was compared to the observers while they viewed the instructor’s video-taped actions. We demonstrate for the first time that the BOLD activity in the instructor’s and observer’s brain are synchronized while observing and learning a manual complex task with the goal of reproducing it. We can rule out that this synchrony originates from visual feedback. Observers exhibiting higher synchrony with the instructor in the ventral premotor cortex, while viewing the video for the first time, were more successful in reproducing the origami afterwards. Furthermore, changes in instructor-observer synchrony across observational learning sessions occur in cerebellar areas, as well as differences in instructor-observer synchrony between learning and the counting folds, our non-learning control. Not only known cerebellar motor production areas show synchrony, shedding new light on the involvement of the cerebellum in action observation and learning.
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