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Enhancing motor imagery practice using synchronous action observation

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Daniel EavesORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


In this paper we discuss a variety of ways in which practising motor actions by means of motor imagery (MI) can be enhanced via synchronous action observation (AO), that is, by AO+MI. We review the available research on the (mostly facilitatory) behavioural effects of AO+MI practice in the early stages of skill acquisition, discuss possible theoretical explanations, and consider several issues related to the choice and presentation schedules of suitable models. We then discuss considerations related to AO+MI practice at advanced skill levels, including expertise effects, practical recommendations such as focusing attention on specific aspects of the observed action, using just-ahead models, and possible effects of the perspective in which the observed action is presented. In Section 3 we highlight coordinative AO+MI, where the observer imagines performing an action that complements or responds to the observed action, as a promising and yet under-researched application of AO+MI training. In Section 4 we review the neurocognitive hypothesis that AO+MI practice involves two parallel action simulations, and we consider opportunities for future research based on recent neuroimaging work on parallel motor representations. In the final Section we review applications of AO, MI, and AO+MI training in the field of neurorehabilitation. Taken together, this evidence-based, exploratory review opens a variety of avenues for future research and applications of AO+MI practice, highlighting several clear advantages over the approaches of purely AO- or MI-based practice.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Eaves DL, Hodges NJ, Buckingham G, Buccino G, Vogt S

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Psychological Research

Year: 2022

Pages: epub ahead of print

Online publication date: 27/12/2022

Acceptance date: 07/11/2022

ISSN (print): 0340-0727

ISSN (electronic): 1430-2772


DOI: 10.1007/s00426-022-01768-7