New competencies may be learned through active experience (learning by doing) or observation of others’ experience (learning by observation). Observing another person performing a complex action accelerates the observer’s acquisition of the same action, limiting the time-consuming process of learning by doing. Here, we compared learning by observation and learning by doing in individuals with Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS). It is hypothesized that PWS individuals could show more difficulties with learning by observation than learning by doing because of their specific difficulty in interpreting and using social information. Methods: The performance of 24 PWS individuals was compared with that of 28 mental age (MA)- and gender-matched typically developing (TD) children in tasks of learning a visuo-motor sequence by observation or by doing. To determinewhether the performance pattern exhibited by PWS participants was specific to this population or whether it was a nonspecific intellectual disability effect, we compared the PWS performances with those of a third MA- and gender-matched group of individuals with Williams syndrome (WS). Results: PWS individuals were severely impaired in detecting a sequence by observation, were able to detect a sequence by doing, and became as efficient as TD children in reproducing an observed sequence after a task of learning by doing. The learning pattern of PWS children was reversed compared with that of WS individuals. Conclusions: The observational learning deficit in PWS individuals may be rooted, at least partially, in their incapacity to understand and/or use social information.
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