Action observation and motor imagery promote motor learning. But which one should we use during skill acquisition and refinement, or should we use both?
Together with David Wright and Paul Holmes from Manchester Metropolitan University, we just published a chapter dealing with issues related to this question as part of the Routledge International Encyclopedia of Sport and Exercise Psychology (see here).
We have discussed and compared MI and AO independently and concluded by advocating for their combined and simultaneous use, albeit with an implicit assumption that the two states are content-congruent. Although the initial evidence indicates that AO+MI might be more effective than MI or AO alone, more detailed and rigorous research is needed, drawing on methodological designs from the AO and MI literature, in order to investigate its additive effects on motor performance and learning more systematically. Neurocognitive accounts, with a focus on action representation, may help advance our understanding of AO+MI and explain why MI and AO differ and why AO+MI could be more effective in some situations. We would advocate that, rather than focusing on similarities across simulation states of action, future research should now shift to the theoretical, neural, and behavioural differences when imagining, observing, and executing a motor action in order to better understand the mechanisms supporting AO+MI combinations. Finally, new technologies, such as VR and mobile applications, may provide innovative and effective interventions for AO+MI training aimed at supporting sport performance and (re)learning, although their feasibility and their effectiveness remain to be explored.
Frank, C., Wright, D. J., & Holmes, P. S. (2020). Mental simulation and neurocognition: Advances for motor imagery and action observation training in sport. In D. Hackfort & R. J. Schinke (Eds.), Routledge International Encyclopedia of Sport and Exercise Psychology. Volume 2: Applied and Practical Measures (pp. XX-XX).