Signal and Noise in Behavioral Neuroscience

Boki Wang is a 4th year PhD student in Biomedical Engineering at Arizona State University, where she is studying neuromodulation of motor learning. Boki holds a pluralistic (holistic as she calls it) perspective to study brain-behavior relationships, and is especially interested in understanding behavioral and neural data. Her personal scientific mission is to apply research to improve sports performance for athletes and teams, with special interest in women’s basketball. 

Twitter: @BokiPWang

Linkedin: Click Here!

Website: Click Here!


Neuroscience Needs Behavior: Correcting a Reductionist Bias


The Neuroscience of Expertise

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail–but Some Don’t Reprint Edition

The Performance Cortex: How Neuroscience Is Redefining Athletic Genius


Navigating Emotionally Demanding Research

Thomas Gretton is currently a second year sport psychology PhD student at Florida State University where he is studying cognitive performance in elite sport and elite sport performance. Specifically, Thomas has interests in pre-performance routines, psychological rest, and emotionally demanding research.

Twitter: @ThomasGretton


Linkedin: Click Here!


Researcher Self-Care in Emotionally Demanding Research: A Proposed Conceptual Framework

Unexpected Negative Participant Responses and Researcher Safety: “Fuck Your Survey and Your Safe Space, Trigger Warning Bullshit”

Member reflections with elite coaches and gymnasts: looking back to look forward

The Cognitive Component of Elite High Jumpers’ Preperformance Routines

“The forgotten session”: Advancing research and practice concerning the psychology of rest in athletes

The PhD Podcast

PhD students – are you interested in sharing your knowledge through a medium other than posters and papers? Consider joining Harjiv and Jason on the PhD podcast! We’ve brought on students from across the United States and globe to share their research interests relating to biomechanics, motor learning, exercise physiology, neuropsychology, and many more! Our blog/podcast has been viewed in 80+ countries so this is a great platform to get your knowledge out to interested individuals.

Here are a few of the specifics for interested guests:

  • Podcast length is typically 30-40 min
  • We ask that each student share a paper(s) that was influential to their PhD studies
  • We conduct the podcast via Zoom call, and post only the audio to our blog
  • A week in advance, Harjiv and I send you a script (pending your final approval) relating to questions/talking points for the podcast

If you are interested, please feel free to reach out to Harjiv (, @singh_harjiv) or me (, @JasonAvedesian)

– Jason


Motor Learning and Healthy Aging!

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Margot Bootsma is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Groningen studying motor learning, healthy aging, and neuroscience. With her background in human movement science and neuropsychology,  Margot’s research is investigating changes in the brain and subsequent application towards understanding how to better optimize motor learning.




Challenge Point: A Framework for Conceptualizing the Effects of Various Practice Conditions in Motor Learning

Genes with Jeb: Advancements in Exercise with Omics Technology

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Jeb Struder is currently a doctoral student at the University of Connecticut studying  the cellular and molecular responses of skeletal muscle to exercise and stressful environments. He also serves as the Director of Research for the Korey Stringer Institute


Twitter:  @j_struder



Transcriptomic Profiling of Skeletal Muscle Adaptations to Exercise and Inactivity


Learning Through Observation

Recently, I sat in a lecture on observational learning, which was supplemented by a another lecture on self-regulated learning. Surprisingly, there hasn’t been a handful of research regarding observational learning as it pertains to motor skill learning and performance. I wanted to dig in a little deeper and share with you a quick overview.

It all started with Giacomo Rizzolatti (Discovery of mirror neurons) when his work with canonical neurons and the neural representation of motor movements in monkeys led to the discovery of mirror neurons. The basic idea was that canonical neurons are transforming affordances of objects. Meaning, it’s enough to observe a door knob for you know how to grasp it (in this case, it was a peanut). But it was soon realized that in some cases, just showing, wasn’t enough. In order for the monkey’s neurons to fire, the object had to be grasped. This led to the idea of congruence. The monkey needed to be able to also grasp the object in order for its mirror neurons to fire when a person grasped the same object.

Mirror neurons are neurons with motor processes that fire not only during action execution, but also when observing someone else performing the same or similar action. Likewise, observation of movements also activates the same areas that are used to preform those movements. In a review by Iacoboni (2009), it was concluded that;


  • Mirror neurons fire during observation, but not during observation of pantomime. Meaning, they are goal oriented.
  • Mirror neurons fire when say graspable objects are occluded by a screen.
  • Mirror neurons discharge in response to the intention or goal rather than action itself.
  • Mirror neurons are Multimodal; they can discharge to sound.
  • Mirror neurons are related to motor experience with a given action.

As a function of experience, Orgs et al., (2008) found that event related desynchronization in alpha and beta frequency of experts was modulated by an individual’s expertise with a certain movement style. So yes, the more you see it, the better. Further, the phenomena of observational learning has played in imperative role in motor learning albeit the research evidence is not immense. Coaches and clinicians are constantly using demonstration as a tool to enhance the rate of learning or optimizing current performance.

Observational Learning

Horn et al., (2007) found that novices in a model group, where they were observed a video model, learned a maximum velocity back-handed reverse baseball pitch to a greater extent than those who practiced based on just verbal instruction/guidance. What was really interesting was that the model group individuals showed immediate change in their intra-limb coordination, mimicking closely to the model’s relative motion pattern. In fact, ball speed was also improved. As a result, in early acquisition (i.e., rehabilitation) a model may represent an efficient and stable behavioral change that can enhance the rate of learning. In other words, a model can also be used as a constraint that allows salient information to be perceived. Watching an expert is typically the approach coaches adhere to when teaching a motor skill. Sometimes, its even the coach itself, whom they think is the expert. Clark & Ste-Marie (2007) wanted to see what would happen if the self was used as a model intervention. They used children who were learning how to swim. One group either saw a videotape of their own performance (self observation) where as the other group saw an edited video of their own best performance (self modeling). The self modelling group performed better. They concluded that implementing self-modelling interventions is a useful strategy to optimize learning.

Practicing in Groups

 Dyad training is considered effective and efficient. In fact, most teams practice in dyads. In slight contrast, rehab settings most often times don’t. Shea and colleagues (1999) compared three groups (individual, dyad alternate, and dyad control) using a balance task. In the dyad alternate group the order looked something like this; partner 1 went while partner 2 observed and on the next trial, partner 2 went and partner 1 observed. In the dyad control group, partner 1 went, performed all trials while partner 2 observed, and then they switched. They found that the dyad alternate group did best in retention whereas the dyad control group came in second, still doing better than the individual group. It was concluded that dyad training is beneficial due to observational learning, increased motivation (support/competition) and sharing or receiving feedback. Thus, practice should include observation and dialog between learners. Applying this type of framework is something coaches should strive to do. Lastly, Granados & Wulf (2007) found that observation and dialogue are also beneficial to motor learning in dyad practice, though these results should be extended to larger groups.


 The aforementioned literature goes in line with the soft versus hard assembled mechanisms debate. A hard assembled mechanism is independent of the immediate context, but is revealed across multiple contexts. For example, my rule about a “swish” in basketball remains whether on a basketball court, shooting a paper ball into a garbage can, etc. In contrast, a soft assembled mechanism is constrained within context. As mentioned by Kloos & Van Orden (2009), this can be the kinematics of a limb in a particular action. Like Bernstein (1967) alludes to, repetition of this soft assembly will reveal assemblies that have unique kinematics, albeit not context free. I bring this up because motor learning is typically associated with prescriptive, direct learning approaches that enable such “soft assemblies” to be formed, providing only temporary solutions. Here, it is demonstrated that observational learning is a powerful tool that enables coaches and clinicians to constrain information without using a prescriptive approach. As a result, you no longer have the formation of “soft assemblies,” but more efficient and stable behavioral changes.



  • Coaches should integrate observational learning during practice.
  • A self-modeled approach, where good performances are seen and referenced improve motor performance and learning.
  • When practicing in dyads, allow for dialogue to occur and strategies to be verbalized.
  • Particularly in rehabilitation settings, observational learning is powerful for the efficient and effective behavioral changes that allow for retention and transfer.



 Clark, S. E., & Ste-Marie, D. M. (2007). The impact of self-as-a-model interventions on children’s self-regulation of learning and swimming performance. Journal of sports sciences25(5), 577-586

Granados, C., & Wulf, G. (2007). Enhancing motor learning through dyad practice: contributions of observation and dialogue. Research quarterly for exercise and sport78(3), 197-203.

Horn, R. R., Williams, A. M., Hayes, S. J., Hodges, N. J., & Scott, M. A. (2007). Demonstration as a rate enhancer to changes in coordination during early skill acquisition. Journal of Sports Sciences25(5), 599-614.

Iacoboni, M. (2009). Imitation, empathy, and mirror neurons. Annual review of psychology60, 653-670.

Kloos, H., & Van Orden, G. C. (2009). Soft-assembled mechanisms for the unified theory. Toward a unified theory of development: Connectionism and dynamic systems theory re-considered, 253-267.

 Orgs, G., Dombrowski, J. H., Heil, M., & Jansen‐Osmann, P. (2008). Expertise in dance modulates alpha/beta event‐related desynchronization during action observation. European Journal of Neuroscience27(12), 3380-3384.

 Shea, C. H., Wulf, G., & Whltacre, C. (1999). Enhancing training efficiency and effectiveness through the use of dyad training. Journal of motor behavior31(2), 119-125.



Rethinking Feedback: Creating More Effective and Efficient Training Environments – AVCA 2019

I had a wonderful time at the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) convention presenting alongside Coach Speraw on the role of feedback in the sport of volleyball. Sad I couldn’t be there the whole time, but glad I was able to make the long drive despite a cancelled flight…with no sleep! In hindsight, there are some things I wished we hit on, and perhaps some things I hoped to make clearer. I humbly apologize for any mistakes made when relaying the information related to the research literature. It was actually my first time talking to coaches (and a lot of them!), not so much researchers or those in the field of psychology/motor learning/biomechanics. I learned so much and so I thank each and every one who attended. I do wish you took at least one tangible concept that you can apply to your practice. There was a great mix of coaches who represented different levels of volleyball in attendance (club, college, and national levels!). It goes to show the power of growth our sport has been able launch in the United States. Seeing such a diverse crowd was a reminder as to why bridging this gap between research and practice is so important. A big thank you to Coach Speraw and USA Volleyball who allowed me to be part of this. As mentioned, him, Dr. Becker, and myself have had some conversations surrounding this topic and wanted to share some of what we are brainstorming. I wanted to make some of the slides available and also wanted to address questions alongside further explanation. You’ll see I’ve put together a conglomerate of many different research ideas and papers onto this one document. My hope is that after you read this, you have more questions.  As always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions, comments, or concerns. One thing for certain is that I also have many questions for coaches too! Let’s learn together. Here is the link:

Rethinking Feedback


With Love,

Harjiv Singh