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Hum Brain Mapp. 2009 Jul;30(7):2157-72. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20658.

Brain activity during visual versus kinesthetic imagery: an fMRI study.

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  • 1Center of Research and Innovation in Sport, Mental Processes and Motor Performance, University Claude Bernard Lyon I, University of Lyon, Villeurbanne, France.


Although there is ample evidence that motor imagery activates similar cerebral regions to those solicited during actual movements, it is still unknown whether visual (VI) and kinesthetic imagery (KI) recruit comparable or distinct neural networks. The present study was thus designed to identify, through functional magnetic resonance imaging at 3.0 Tesla in 13 skilled imagers, the cerebral structures implicated in VI and KI. Participants were scanned in a perceptual control condition and while physically executing or focusing during motor imagery on either the visual or kinesthetic components of an explicitly known sequence of finger movements. Subjects' imagery abilities were assessed using well-established psychological, chronometric, and new physiological measures from the autonomic nervous system. Compared with the perceptual condition, physical executing, VI, and KI resulted in overlapping (albeit non-identical) brain activations, including motor-related regions and the inferior and superior parietal lobules. By contrast, a divergent pattern of increased activity was observed when VI and KI were compared directly: VI activated predominantly the occipital regions and the superior parietal lobules, whereas KI yielded more activity in motor-associated structures and the inferior parietal lobule. These results suggest that VI and KI are mediated through separate neural systems, which contribute differently during processes of motor learning and neurological rehabilitation.

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