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PLoS One. 2009 Aug 26;4(8):e6769. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006769.

Discrete and effortful imagined movements do not specifically activate the autonomic nervous system.

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  • 1Université de Bourgogne, UFR STAPS, BP 27877, Dijon, France.



The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is activated in parallel with the motor system during cyclical and effortful imagined actions. However, it is not clear whether the ANS is activated during motor imagery of discrete movements and whether this activation is specific to the movement being imagined. Here, we explored these topics by studying the baroreflex control of the cardiovascular system.


Arterial pressure and heart rate were recorded in ten subjects who executed or imagined trunk or leg movements against gravity. Trunk and leg movements result in different physiological reactions (orthostatic hypotension phenomenon) when they are executed. Interestingly, ANS activation significantly, but similarly, increased during imagined trunk and leg movements. Furthermore, we did not observe any physiological modulation during a control mental-arithmetic task or during motor imagery of effortless movements (horizontal wrist displacements).


We concluded that ANS activation during motor imagery is general and not specific and physiologically prepares the organism for the upcoming effortful action.

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