Planning-related motor processes underlie mental practice and imitation learning.
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It is still controversial whether mental practice-the internal rehearsal of movements to improve later performance-relies on processes engaged during physical motor performance and, if so, which processes these are. We report data from 5 experiments, in which participants mentally practiced complex rhythms with either feet or hands while using the same or different body parts to respond to unrelated sounds. We found that responses were impaired for those body parts that were concurrently used in mental practice, suggesting a binding of body-part-specific motor processes to action plans. This result was found when participants mentally trained to memorize the rhythms, to merely improve their performance, when mental practice and execution directly followed one another and when separated by a different task. Finally, it was found irrespective of whether participants practiced on the basis of a symbolic rhythm description and when they practiced by watching somebody perform the rhythms (imitation learning). The effect was eliminated only when the requirement for mental practice was eliminated from the task while keeping visual stimulation identical. These data link mental practice not to execution but planning related motor processes and reveal that these planning processes underlie both mental practice and imitation learning.
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