Incongruent imagery interferes with action initiation

Brain Cogn. 2010 Dec;74(3):249-54. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2010.08.005. Epub 2010 Sep 16.


It has been suggested that representing an action through observation and imagery share neural processes with action execution. In support of this view, motor-priming research has shown that observing an action can influence action initiation. However, there is little motor-priming research showing that imagining an action can modulate action initiation. The current study examined whether action imagery could prime subsequent execution of a reach and grasp action. Across two motion analysis tracking experiments, 40 participants grasped an object following congruent or incongruent action imagery. In Experiment 1, movement initiation was faster following congruent compared to incongruent imagery, demonstrating that imagery can prime the initiation of grasping. In Experiment 2, incongruent imagery resulted in slower movement initiation compared to a no-imagery control. These data show that imagining a different action to that which is performed can interfere with action production. We propose that the most likely neural correlates of this interference effect are brain regions that code imagined and executed actions. Further, we outline a plausible mechanistic account of how priming in these brain regions through imagery could play a role in action cognition.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cognition*
  • Executive Function*
  • Female
  • Hand
  • Hand Strength
  • Humans
  • Imagination*
  • Male
  • Movement*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Young Adult