Mental imagery of gravitational motion

Silvio Gravano, Myrka Zago, Francesco Lacquaniti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

There is considerable evidence that gravitational acceleration is taken into account in the interaction with falling targets through an internal model of Earth gravity. Here we asked whether this internal model is accessed also when target motion is imagined rather than real. In the main experiments, naïve participants grasped an imaginary ball, threw it against the ceiling, and caught it on rebound. In different blocks of trials, they had to imagine that the ball moved under terrestrial gravity (1g condition) or under microgravity (0g) as during a space flight. We measured the speed and timing of the throwing and catching actions, and plotted ball flight duration versus throwing speed. Best-fitting duration-speed curves estimate the laws of ball motion implicit in the participant's performance. Surprisingly, we found duration-speed curves compatible with 0g for both the imaginary 0g condition and the imaginary 1g condition, despite the familiarity with Earth gravity effects and the added realism of performing the throwing and catching actions. In a control experiment, naïve participants were asked to throw the imaginary ball vertically upwards at different heights, without hitting the ceiling, and to catch it on its way down. All participants overestimated ball flight durations relative to the durations predicted by the effects of Earth gravity. Overall, the results indicate that mental imagery of motion does not have access to the internal model of Earth gravity, but resorts to a simulation of visual motion. Because visual processing of accelerating/decelerating motion is poor, visual imagery of motion at constant speed or slowly varying speed appears to be the preferred mode to perform the tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172-191
Number of pages20
JournalCortex
Volume95
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2017

Keywords

  • Catching
  • Internal model
  • Throwing
  • Visual imagery
  • Visual motion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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