Imagery of movements immediately following performance allows learning of motor skills that interfere

Sci Rep. 2018 Sep 25;8(1):14330. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-32606-9.


Motor imagery, that is the mental rehearsal of a motor skill, can lead to improvements when performing the same skill. Here we show a powerful and complementary role, in which motor imagery of different movements after actually performing a skill allows learning that is not possible without imagery. We leverage a well-studied motor learning task in which subjects reach in the presence of a dynamic (force-field) perturbation. When two opposing perturbations are presented alternately for the same physical movement, there is substantial interference, preventing any learning. However, when the same physical movement is associated with follow-through movements that differ for each perturbation, both skills can be learned. Here we show that when subjects perform the skill and only imagine the follow-through, substantial learning occurs. In contrast, without such motor imagery there was no learning. Therefore, motor imagery can have a profound effect on skill acquisition even when the imagery is not of the skill itself. Our results suggest that motor imagery may evoke different neural states for the same physical state, thereby enhancing learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagery, Psychotherapy*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology*