Interference effects of mental imagery on a motor task


Faculty of Kinesiology, University of Western Ontario, Thames Hall, London, Canada N6A 3K7


It can be argued that imaginary practice and physical practice are functionally similar. Evidence in support of this hypothesis comes from several experiments demonstrating that interference effects from imaginary practice in motor learning and motor memory are similar in both direction and size to those resulting from physical practice. The purpose of the present study was to provide additional support for this finding using a retroactive interference paradigm. Sixty participants were required to practise performing a simple motor task that was to be completed in a criterion time of 700 ms. They then were randomly assigned to one of six groups. These groups differed in the amount and type of interpolated practice they experienced. One physical practice group attended one session of interpolated activity involving physical practice of another motor task. The other physical practice group participated in two such sessions. One imagery group attended a single session entailing imaginary practice of the same interpolated motor task, while the other imagery group had two such sessions. A fifth group experienced a combination of physical practice and rest periods for two interpolated sessions. A control group did not experience any interpolated activity sessions. Following the interpolated activity sessions, all groups were given a retention/reacquisition test on the original motor task. Imaginary and physical practice during the interpolated activity sessions caused similar interference effects on retention/reacquisition. All groups showed greater deviation from the criterion movement time (700 ms) during the retention test than the control group, and these deviations were in the expected direction given the nature of the interpolated motor task.