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Motor imagery during action observation: A brief review of evidence, theory and future research opportunities

Eaves, D and Riach, M and Holmes, Paul and Wright, DJ (2016) Motor imagery during action observation: A brief review of evidence, theory and future research opportunities. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 10. pp. 1-24. ISSN 1662-5161

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Motor imagery (MI) and action observation (AO) have traditionally been viewed as two separate techniques, which can both be used alongside physical practice to enhance motor learning and rehabilitation. Their independent use has been shown to be effective, and there is clear evidence that the two processes can elicit similar activity in the motor system. Building on these well-established findings, research has now turned to investigate the effects of their combined use. In this article, we first review the available neurophysiological and behavioral evidence for the effects of combined action observation and motor imagery (‘AO+MI’) on motor processes. We next describe a conceptual framework for their combined use, and then discuss several areas for future research into AO+MI processes. In this review, we advocate a more integrated approach to AO+MI techniques than has previously been adopted by movement scientists and practitioners alike. We hope this early review of an emergent body of research, along with a related set of research questions, can inspire new work in this area. We are optimistic that future research will further confirm if, how, and when this combined approach to AO+MI can be more effective in motor learning and rehabilitation settings, relative to the more traditional application of AO or MI independently.

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