Cognitive motor processes: the role of motor imagery in the study of motor representations

Brain Res Rev. 2009 May;60(2):306-26. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresrev.2008.12.024. Epub 2009 Jan 7.


Motor imagery is viewed as a window to cognitive motor processes and particularly to motor control. Mental simulation theory [Jeannerod, M., 2001. Neural simulation of action: a unifying mechanism for motor cognition. NeuroImage 14, 103-109] stresses that cognitive motor processes such as motor imagery and action observation share the same representations as motor execution. This article presents an overview of motor imagery studies in cognitive psychology and neuroscience that support and extend predictions from mental simulation theory. In general, behavioral data as well as fMRI and TMS data demonstrate that motor areas in the brain play an important role in motor imagery. After discussing results on a close overlap between mental and actual performance durations, the review focuses specifically on studies reporting an activation of primary motor cortex during motor imagery. This focus is extended to studies on motor imagery in patients. Motor imagery is also analyzed in more applied fields such as mental training procedures in patients and athletes. These findings support the notion that mental training procedures can be applied as a therapeutic tool in rehabilitation and in applications for power training.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Imagery, Psychotherapy*
  • Models, Biological
  • Motor Activity / physiology*