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Motor learning without physical practice: The effects of combined action observation and motor imagery practice on cup-stacking speed

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 study we explored training effects for combined action observation and motor imagery (AO + MI) instructions on a complex cup-stacking task, without physical practice. Using a Graeco-Latin Square design, we randomly assigned twenty-six participants into four groups. This counterbalanced the within-participant factor of practice condition (AO + MI, AO, MI, Control) across four cup-stacking tasks, which varied in their complexity. On each of the three consecutive practice days participants experienced twenty trials under each of the three mental practice conditions. On each trial, a first-person perspective video depicted bilateral cup-stacking performed by an experienced model. During AO, participants passively observed this action, responding only to occasional colour cues. For AO + MI, participants imagined performing the observed action and synchronised their concurrent MI with the display. For MI, a sequence of pictures cued imagery of each stage of the task. Analyses revealed a significant main effect of practice condition both at the ’surprise’ post-test (Day 3) and at the one-week retention test. At both time points movement execution times were significantly shorter for AO + MI compared with AO, MI and the Control. Execution times were also shorter overall at the retention compared with the post-test. These results demonstrate that a complex novel motor task can be acquired without physical training. Practitioners can therefore use AO + MI practice to supplement physical practice and optimise skill learning.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Binks JA, Wilson CL, Van Schaik P, Eaves D

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Psychology of Sport and Exercise

Year: 2023

Volume: 68

Print publication date: 01/09/2023

Online publication date: 23/05/2023

Acceptance date: 22/05/2023

Date deposited: 09/06/2023

ISSN (print): 1469-0292

ISSN (electronic): 1878-5476

Publisher: Elsevier BV


DOI: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2023.102468


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