Vegetative response during imagined movement is proportional to mental effort

Behav Brain Res. 1991 Jan 31;42(1):1-5. doi: 10.1016/s0166-4328(05)80033-6.


Measurement of cardiac and respiratory activity during mental simulation of locomotion at increasing speed revealed a covariation of heart rate and pulmonary ventilation with the degree of imagined effort. The degree of vegetative activation of a subject mentally running at 12 km/h was comparable to that of a subject actually walking at 5 km/h. This effect cannot be explained by an increase in peripheral (e.g. muscular) metabolic demands. Indeed, oxygen uptake decreased during motor imagery. This finding is suggestive of a commonality of neural structures responsible for mental imagery of movement and those responsible for programming actual movement. In addition, it provides an quantifiable way of testing mental imagery in relation to movement by using easily accessible biological markers.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Electrocardiography
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Male
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Respiration / physiology