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I am a PhD student who focuses on the brain mechanisms involved in imagining ourselves move.


How can mental practice improve your game?

In 10 seconds? Mental practice – purposely imagining yourself performing an action without actually doing it – can be an effective training tool for those who can’t log as many training hours as the pros.

Don’t believe it? Imagining the visual and physical sensations associated with movement has been shown to activate most of the same brain areas as actual movement.

But surely physical practice must be the best? Correct. It is unlikely that mental practice alone will lead to the perfect golf swing, but when it is combined with physical practice, competitive athletes find it provides important benefits for their performance. (read more)

So how can you integrate mental practice into your training?

Combine it with physical practice — Most studies show that combining physical and mental practice is the best way to gain the most benefits.

Be specific! — Try to be as specific as you can about the movement you imagine. Studies have shown that mental and physical practice are specific to a given movement pattern and its’ context. (read more)

Imagine from your perspective — Studies have shown that imagery from a first person perspective tends to activate more brain areas associated with movement, making the training more effective. (read more)


Does motor imagery share neural networks with executed movement: a multivariate fMRI analysis.

Abstract: Motor imagery (MI) is the mental rehearsal of a motor first person action-representation. There is interest in using MI to access the motor network after stroke. Conventional fMRI modeling has shown that MI and executed movement (EM) activate similar cortical areas but it remains unknown whether they share cortical networks. Proving this is central to using MI to access the motor network and as a form of motor training. Here we use multivariate analysis (tensor independent component analysis-TICA) to map the array of neural networks involved during MI and EM.Fifteen right-handed healthy volunteers (mean-age 28.4 years) were recruited and screened for their ability to carry out MI (Chaotic MI Assessment). fMRI consisted of an auditory-paced (1 Hz) right hand finger-thumb opposition sequence (2,3,4,5; 2…) with two separate runs acquired (MI & rest and EM & rest: block design). No distinction was made between MI and EM until the final stage of processing. This allowed TICA to identify independent-components (IC) that are common or distinct to both tasks with no prior assumptions.TICA defined 52 ICs. Non-significant ICs and those representing artifact were excluded. Components in which the subject scores were significantly different to zero (for either EM or MI) were included. Seven IC remained. There were IC's shared between EM and MI involving the contralateral BA4, PMd, parietal areas and SMA. IC's exclusive to EM involved the contralateral BA4, S1 and ipsilateral cerebellum whereas the IC related exclusively to MI involved ipsilateral BA4 and PMd.In addition to networks specific to each task indicating a degree of independence, we formally demonstrate here for the first time that MI and EM share cortical networks. This significantly strengthens the rationale for using MI to access the motor networks, but the results also highlight important differences.

Pub.: 26 Sep '13, Pinned: 10 Apr '17

Benefits of motor imagery training on muscle strength.

Abstract: It is well established that motor imagery (MI) improves motor performance and motor learning efficiently. Previous studies provided evidence that muscle strength may benefit from MI training, mainly when movements are under the control of large cortical areas in the primary motor cortex. The purpose of this experiment is to assess whether MI might improve upper and lower limbs' strength through an ecological approach and validation, with complex and multijoint exercises. Nine participants were included in the MI group and 10 in the control (CTRL) group. The 2 groups performed identical bench press and leg press exercises. The MI group was instructed to visualize and feel the correspondent contractions during the rest period, whereas the CTRL group carried out a neutral task. The maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) and the maximal number of repetitions (MR) using 80% of the pre-test MVC weight were measured. Although both MI and CTRL groups enhanced their strength through the training sessions, the leg press MVC was significantly higher in the MI group than in the CTRL group (p<0.05). The interaction between the leg press MR and the group was marginally significant (p=0.076). However, we did not find any difference between the MI and CTRL groups, both in the bench press MVC and MR. MI-related training may contribute to the improvement of lower limbs performance by enhancing the technical execution of the movement, and the individual intrinsic motivation. From an applied and practical perspective, we state that athletes may perform imagined muscles contractions, most especially during the rest periods of their physical training, to contribute to the enhancement of concentric strength.

Pub.: 29 May '10, Pinned: 10 Apr '17

Motor learning without doing: trial-by-trial improvement in motor performance during mental training.

Abstract: Although there is converging experimental and clinical evidences suggesting that mental training with motor imagery can improve motor performance, it is unclear how humans can learn movements through mental training despite the lack of sensory feedback from the body and the environment. In a first experiment, we measured the trial-by-trial decrease in durations of executed movements (physical training group) and mentally simulated movements (motor-imagery training group), by means of training on a multiple-target arm-pointing task requiring high accuracy and speed. Movement durations were significantly lower in posttest compared with pretest after both physical and motor-imagery training. Although both the posttraining performance and the rate of learning were smaller in motor-imagery training group than in physical training group, the change in movement duration and the asymptotic movement duration after a hypothetical large number of trials were identical. The two control groups (eye-movement training and rest groups) did not show change in movement duration. In the second experiment, additional kinematic analyses revealed that arm movements were straighter and faster both immediately and 24 h after physical and motor-imagery training. No such improvements were observed in the eye-movement training group. Our results suggest that the brain uses state estimation, provided by internal forward model predictions, to improve motor performance during mental training. Furthermore, our results suggest that mental practice can, at least in young healthy subjects and if given after a short bout of physical practice, be successfully substituted to physical practice to improve motor performance.

Pub.: 12 Jun '10, Pinned: 10 Apr '17

Effect of task-specific execution on accuracy of imagined aiming movements.

Abstract: Ideomotor theory states that the neural codes that represent action and the perceptual consequences of those actions are tightly bound in a common code. For action imagination, bound action, and perceptual codes are thought to be internally activated at a sub-threshold level through action simulation. In support of this hypothesis, previous research revealed that imagined movement times (MTs) for reciprocal aiming movements were closer to actual execution MTs after the participants gained experience executing the task. The current study examined the task-specific nature of the effects of experience on imagination by determining if improvements in accuracy in the imagination of reciprocal aiming movements occur only with experience of the reciprocal aiming task or with any aiming task. To this end, one group of participants executed a reciprocal pointing task, whereas a second group executed a discrete aiming task with comparable accuracy requirements before and after imagining reciprocal aiming movements. Influence of task specificity on imagination was assessed by evaluating the changes in imagined MTs before and after execution. Consistent with previous findings, there was a reduction in imagined MTs following task execution. Critically, there was a significant time by group interaction revealing a significant pre/post reduction in imagined MTs for the group that executed the reciprocal aiming movements, but not for the group that executed the discrete aiming movements. These data support ideomotor accounts of action imagination because it appears that the imagination of a movement is affected by task-specific experience with that movement.

Pub.: 03 Dec '14, Pinned: 10 Apr '17

Motor imagery training promotes motor learning in adolescents with cerebral palsy: comparison between left and right hemiparesis.

Abstract: This experiment was designed to evaluate the effects of pure motor imagery training (MIT) and its combination with physical practice on learning an aiming task with the more affected arm in adolescents suffering from cerebral palsy. Effect of MIT was evaluated as a function of side of hemiparesis. The experiment was accomplished by 11- to 16-year-old participants (M = 13.58 years), who suffered left (n = 16) or right (n = 15) mild hemiparesis. They were exposed to pure MIT (day 1) followed by physical practice (day 2) on an aiming task demanding movement accuracy and speed. Posttraining movement kinematics of the group receiving MIT were compared with movement kinematics of the control group after receiving recreational activities (day 1) and physical practice (day 2). Kinematic analysis showed that MIT led to decreased movement time and straighter hand displacements to the target. Performance achievements from MIT were increased with further physical practice, leading to enhanced effects on motor learning. Retention evaluation indicated that performance improvement from pure MIT and its combination with physical practice were stable over time. Performance achievements were equivalent between adolescents with either right or left hemiparesis, suggesting similar capacity between these groups to achieve performance improvement from pure imagery training and from its association with physical practice. Our results suggest that motor imagery training is a procedure potentially useful to increase motor learning achievements in individuals suffering from cerebral palsy.

Pub.: 29 Jan '16, Pinned: 10 Apr '17

Active training paradigm for motor imagery BCI.

Abstract: Brain-computer interface (BCI) allows the use of brain activities for people to directly communicate with the external world or to control external devices without participation of any peripheral nerves and muscles. Motor imagery is one of the most popular modes in the research field of brain-computer interface. Although motor imagery BCI has some advantages compared with other modes of BCI, such as asynchronization, it is necessary to require training sessions before using it. The performance of trained BCI system depends on the quality of training samples or the subject engagement. In order to improve training effect and decrease training time, we proposed a new paradigm where subjects participated in training more actively than in the traditional paradigm. In the traditional paradigm, a cue (to indicate what kind of motor imagery should be imagined during the current trial) is given to the subject at the beginning of a trial or during a trial, and this cue is also used as a label for this trial. It is usually assumed that labels for trials are accurate in the traditional paradigm, although subjects may not have performed the required or correct kind of motor imagery, and trials may thus be mislabeled. And then those mislabeled trials give rise to interference during model training. In our proposed paradigm, the subject is required to reconfirm the label and can correct the label when necessary. This active training paradigm may generate better training samples with fewer inconsistent labels because it overcomes mistakes when subject's motor imagination does not match the given cues. The experiments confirm that our proposed paradigm achieves better performance; the improvement is significant according to statistical analysis.

Pub.: 06 Apr '12, Pinned: 10 Apr '17