Autonomic nervous system activity during actual and mentally simulated preparation for movement

Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2005 Mar;30(1):11-20. doi: 10.1007/s10484-005-2170-2.


The aim of this study was to compare actual versus mentally simulated preparation for a complex motor skill. Two behavioral periods are observed during weightlifting: (i) an initial phase in which the subject standing behind the bar is thought to focus his attention on forthcoming execution and (ii) a second phase between hands/bar contact and execution during which the subject is thought to increase activation. Such mental processes accompanying behavioral sequences are correlated with autonomic nervous system activity, phasic responses corresponding to allocation of attentional resources, and tonic variations related to increasing general activation. To study mental processes during preparation for action, 12 subjects performed actual and imagined preparation phases of execution. Six autonomic variables were measured continuously. Skin potential (chi2 = 0.16), skin temperature amplitude (Z = -0.66) and duration (Z = -1.78), skin blood flow amplitude (Z = -0.56) and duration (Z = -1.51), respiratory frequency amplitude (Z = -0.14) and duration (Z = -0.13), and duration of heart rate response (Z = -1.25) were shown to be comparable (p > .05), whatever the modality of preparation. However, during mentally simulated preparation, skin resistance response was shorter than in actual preparation (Z = -2.12, p < .05), thus attesting to a weaker load, whereas lower decrease in heart rate was elicited (Z = -1.96, p < .05). This may be explained by this particular experimental condition because mental preparation would not lead to actual action. Such autonomic variables could be used as feedback to improve performance.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Motor Activity*
  • Skin / blood supply
  • Weight Lifting / physiology*