There is More to Motor Imagery than Mental Simulation
New research reveals how the brain deals with real and impossible actions
Milan, 9 September 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 brain damage 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 stroke patients with varying degrees of motor impairment. 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.”
# # #
Notes to Editors
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), published by Elsevier in Italy. Full text of the article featured above is available to members of the media upon request. Please contact the Elsevier press office, firstname.lastname@example.org. To schedule an interview, contact Dr Elena Daprati, Elena.Daprati@uniroma2.it.
Cortex is an international journal devoted to the study of cognition and of the relationship between the nervous system and mental processes, particularly as these are reflected in the behaviour of patients with acquired brain lesions, normal volunteers, children with typical and atypical development, and in the activation of brain regions and systems as recorded by functional neuroimaging techniques. It was founded in 1964 by Ennio De Renzi. The Editor in-chief of Cortex is Sergio Della Sala, Professor of Human Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. Fax: 0131 6513230, e-mail: email@example.com. Cortex is available online at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00109452.
Elsevier is a world-leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services. The company works in partnership with the global science and health communities to publish more than 2,000 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and close to 20,000 book titles, including major reference works from Mosby and Saunders. Elsevier’s online solutions include ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, Reaxys, ClinicalKey and Mosby’s Suite, which enhance the productivity of science and health professionals, helping research and health care institutions deliver better outcomes more cost-effectively.
A global business headquartered in Amsterdam, Elsevier employs 7,000 people worldwide. The company is part of Reed Elsevier Group plc, a world leading provider of professional information solutions. The group employs more than 30,000 people, including more than 15,000 in North America. Reed Elsevier Group plc is owned equally by two parent companies, Reed Elsevier PLC and Reed Elsevier NV. Their shares are traded on the London, Amsterdam and New York Stock Exchanges using the following ticker symbols: London: REL; Amsterdam: REN; New York: RUK and ENL.Media Contact
+39 02 88184 260