Contribution from neurophysiological and psychological methods to the study of motor imagery

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2005 Dec 15;50(2):387-97. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresrev.2005.09.004. Epub 2005 Nov 3.


This paper reviews studies on neurophysiological and behavioral methods used to evaluate motor imagery accuracy. These methods can be used when performed in the field and are based on recordings of peripheral indices such as autonomic nervous system or electromyographic activities, mental chronometry and psychological tests. Providing physiological signs that correlate to these types of mental processes may be considered an objective approach for motor imagery analysis. However, although autonomic nervous system activity recording has been shown to match motor imagery in real time, to evaluate its accuracy qualitatively and the individual ability to form mental images, the relationship between physiological responses and mental processes remains an inference. Moreover, electromyographic recordings may be associated with postural control data, but due to inconsistent results, they remain insufficient to solely evaluate motor imagery accuracy. Other techniques traditionally used in psychology and cognitive psychology are questionnaires, "debriefing" with subjects and mental chronometry. Although such methods lead to interesting results, there remains an important part of subjectivity as subjects perform an auto-evaluation of motor imagery accuracy. Similarly, mental chronometry gives information on the ability to preserve temporal organization of movement but does not allow the evaluation of the vividness of mental images. Thus, several methods should be combined to analyze motor imagery accuracy in greater detail. Neurophysiological recordings cannot therefore be considered an alternative but rather a complementary technique to behavioral and psychological methods. The advantages and inconvenient of each technique and the hypotheses that could be tested are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology
  • Behavior / physiology
  • Humans
  • Imagination*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests*
  • Psychological Tests*