Action observation versus motor imagery in learning a complex motor task: A short review of literature and a kinematics study

R. Gatti, A. Tettamanti, P. M. Gough, E. Riboldi, L. Marinoni, G. Buccino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Both motor imagery and action observation have been shown to play a role in learning or re-learning complex motor tasks. According to a well accepted view they share a common neurophysiological basis in the mirror neuron system. Neurons within this system discharge when individuals perform a specific action and when they look at another individual performing the same or a motorically related action. In the present paper, after a short review of literature on the role of action observation and motor imagery in motor learning, we report the results of a kinematics study where we directly compared motor imagery and action observation in learning a novel complex motor task. This involved movement of the right hand and foot in the same angular direction (in-phase movement), while at the same time moving the left hand and foot in an opposite angular direction (anti-phase movement), all at a frequency of 1. Hz. Motor learning was assessed through kinematics recording of wrists and ankles. The results showed that action observation is better than motor imagery as a strategy for learning a novel complex motor task, at least in the fast early phase of motor learning. We forward that these results may have important implications in educational activities, sport training and neurorehabilitation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-42
Number of pages6
JournalNeuroscience Letters
Publication statusPublished - Apr 12 2013



  • Action observation
  • Mirror neuron system
  • Motor imagery
  • Motor learning
  • Neurorehabilitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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