There is more to motor imagery than mental simulation

Sep 09, 2010

The human brain is a powerful simulation machine. Sports professionals and amateurs alike are well aware of the advantages of mentally rehearsing a movement prior to its execution and it is not surprising that the phenomenon, known as motor imagery, has already been extensively investigated. However, a new study published in the September 2010 issue of Elsevier's Cortex suggests that there may be more to motor imagery than previously thought. A group of neuroscientists in Italy have shown that the brain is able to invent creative new solutions in order to perform impossible actions.

Researchers from two Rome universities (Tor Vergata, La Sapienza) and a rehabilitation institution (IRCCS Fondazione Santa Lucia) teamed up to investigate the complexity of motor imagery processes. Close similarities are thought to exist between the brain structures that support imagined and real actions, but findings from neuropsychological research tend to contradict this. "In fact, if disrupts [real] motor functions, simulated actions may or may not show a similar impairment", notes Dr. Elena Daprati. "We took these inconsistencies as a hint that motor imagery might be a more complex phenomenon than previously understood, and reasoned that people involved in rehabilitation should be made aware of this issue for approaches based on mental practice to be successfully applied to patients."

The researchers proposed three tasks - commonly assumed to rely on motor imagery - to with varying degrees of . All patients performed correctly, but only those with milder motor impairments appeared to have used mental simulation during the tasks. Patients with severe impairments, especially of dominant limbs, avoided mentally mimicking the actions that they could no longer perform, using instead alternative mental strategies to complete the tasks. "These findings indicate that the notion of motor imagery should be expanded to include processes that are not limited to simulation, but also rely on creative operations," said the researchers. "These alternative modes would support the brain's creative potential to invent novel motor patterns, tools and machinery, and evidently, the ability to imagine what may never be achieved in reality."

Explore further: Researchers track down cause of eye mobility disorder

More information: The article is "Different motor imagery modes following brain damage" by Elena Daprati, Daniele Nico, Sylvie Duval, Francesco Lacquaniti, and appears in Cortex, Volume 46, Issue 8 (September 2010).

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Muscle 'synergies' may be key to stroke treatment

Oct 20, 2009

Researchers at MIT and San Camillo Hospital in Venice, Italy, have shown that motor impairments in stroke patients can be understood as impairments in specific combinations of muscle activity, known as synergies.

Recommended for you

Researchers track down cause of eye mobility disorder

10 hours ago

Imagine you cannot move your eyes up, and you cannot lift your upper eyelid. You walk through life with your head tilted upward so that your eyes look straight when they are rolled down in the eye socket. ...

How kids' brain structures grow as memory develops

12 hours ago

Our ability to store memories improves during childhood, associated with structural changes in the hippocampus and its connections with prefrontal and parietal cortices. New research from UC Davis is exploring ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Sep 09, 2010
"..imagine what may never be achieved in reality."
Like flying? Maybe we imagine the impossible and then change reality to make it real anyway?

More news stories

Down's chromosome cause genome-wide disruption

The extra copy of Chromosome 21 that causes Down's syndrome throws a spanner into the workings of all the other chromosomes as well, said a study published Wednesday that surprised its authors.

Simplicity is key to co-operative robots

A way of making hundreds—or even thousands—of tiny robots cluster to carry out tasks without using any memory or processing power has been developed by engineers at the University of Sheffield, UK.

Progress in the fight against quantum dissipation

(Phys.org) —Scientists at Yale have confirmed a 50-year-old, previously untested theoretical prediction in physics and improved the energy storage time of a quantum switch by several orders of magnitude. ...