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Feb 27, 2006

Improvement and generalization of arm motor performance through motor imagery practice

Improvement and generalization of arm motor performance through motor imagery practice 
Neuroscience. 2006;137(3):761-72.
Gentili R, Papaxanthis C, Pozzo T.
This study compares the improvement and generalization of arm motor performance after physical or mental training in a motor task requiring a speed-accuracy tradeoff. During the pre- and post-training sessions, 40 subjects pointed with their right arm as accurately and as fast as possible toward targets placed in the frontal plane. Arm movements were performed in two different workspaces called right and left paths. During the training sessions, which included only the right path, subjects were divided into four training groups (n=10): (i) the physical group, subjects overtly performed the task; (ii) the mental group, subjects imagined themselves performing the task; (iii) the active control group, subjects performed eye movements through the targets, (iv) the passive control group, subjects did not receive any specific training. We recorded movement duration, peak acceleration and electromyographic signals from arm muscles. Our findings showed that after both physical and mental training on the right path (training path), hand movement duration and peak acceleration respectively decreased and increased for this path. However, motor performance improvement was greater after physical compared with mental practice. Interestingly, we also observed a partial learning generalization, namely an enhancement of motor performance for the left path (non-training path). The amount of this generalization was roughly similar for the physical and mental groups. Furthermore, while arm muscle activity progressively increased during the training period for the physical group, the activity of the same muscles for the mental group was unchanged and comparable with that of the rest condition. Control groups did not exhibit any improvement. These findings put forward the idea that mental training facilitates motor learning and allows its partial transfer to nearby workspaces. They further suggest that motor prediction, a common process during both actual and imagined movements, is a fundamental operation for both sensorimotor control and learning.

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