The neural substrates for the different modalities of movement imagery

Brain Cogn. 2015 Jul:97:22-31. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2015.04.005. Epub 2015 May 24.


Research highlights that internal visual, external visual and kinesthetic imagery differentially effect motor performance (White & Hardy, 1995; Hardy & Callow, 1999). However, patterns of brain activation subserving these different imagery perspectives and modalities have not yet been established. In the current study, we applied the Vividness of Movement Imagery Questionnaire-2 (VMIQ-2) to study the brain activation underpinning these types of imagery. Participants with high imagery ability (using the VMIQ-2) were selected to participate in the study. The experimental conditions involved imagining an action (one item from the VMIQ-2) using internal visual imagery, external visual imagery, kinesthetic imagery and a perceptual control condition involved looking at a fixation cross. The imagery conditions were presented using a block design and the participants' brain activation was recorded using 3T fMRI. A post-experimental questionnaire was administered to test if participants were able to maintain the imagery during the task and if they switched between the imagery perspective/modalities. Four participants failed to adhere to the imagery conditions, and their data was excluded from analysis. As hypothesized, the different perspectives and modalities of imagery elicited both common areas of activation (in the right supplementary motor area, BA6) and dissociated areas of activation. Specifically, internal visual imagery activated occipital, parietal and frontal brain areas (i.e., the dorsal stream) while external visual imagery activated occipital ventral stream areas and kinesthetic imagery activated caudate and cerebellum areas. These results provide the first central evidence for the visual perspectives and modalities delineated in the VMIQ-2, and, initial biological validity for the VMIQ-2. However, given that only one item from the VMIQ-2 was employed, future fMRI research needs to explore all items to further examine these contentions.

Keywords: External visual imagery; Internal visual imagery; Kinesthetic imagery; Motor cognition; VMIQ-2; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Caudate Nucleus / physiology*
  • Cerebellum / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Kinesthesis / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult