Mental practice and motor learning

Dickinson, Susan Caroline (1988). Mental practice and motor learning. MPhil thesis The Open University.



This thesis is an investigation into the phenomena of mental practice, that is the thinking through of a movement, or movement sequences prior to actual performance. Using a gross motor skill it was demonstrated that it is the sequential, or cognitive component of the task that is most affected by mental practice, rather than the execution of the movements themselves.

As a result of enhanced sequence learning overall performance does improve. Further experiments revealed that individuals can produce . novel movement sequences without prior physical practice of the task. Subjects demonstrated the ability to produce such sequences as long as they have information about the order and types of movements to be performed.

Finally, an attempt was made to characterise the individual differences that might be associated with the capacity to use mental practice effectively. The literature on mental practice reveals that imagery may be a factor within this context. A test of imagery was designed, and its validity and reliability established. This test was used to screen subjects prior to participation in a mental practice study. Unfortunately, no significant relationship was found between imagery, as measured by the test, and improved performance on the task. There was however, a correlation between test scores and the rate of initial learning.

The experimental results are discussed in terms of two proposals. The first is the relationship between mental practice and symbolic learning theory. The second is the possible role of such practice in the preparation of motor programs prior to performance.

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