Investigating whether the presence of error predicts learning during motor imagery

Recent work from our lab assessed the presence of perceived and real error during a novel complex trajectory tracing task. Participants ‘performing’ the task via motor imagery consistently rated their accuracy higher than the execution group, self-rated accuracy was decreased as the speed and/or complexity of the movement pattern increased, paralleling the findings of the execution group. These findings indicate that accuracy and in-turn the commission of errors, is impacted in motor imagery by known drivers of error in execution, suggesting that participants commit error when doing motor tasks via motor imagery.

Having established that errors are committed in motor imagery, a remaining question is whether the commission of error drives learning in motor imagery in a manner like that of execution. This study will extend our prior work and probe whether the commission of error drives learning in motor imagery.

The present study will provide further evidence that an error detection mechanism exists during motor imagery, and whether the presence of error predicts learning.

Project member: Theresa Gaughan

Investigating how attention influences motor imagery performance

People’s motor imagery performance could be different for many reasons, but it is unclear if there are individual differences due to current traits or tendencies. This would include someone’s cognitive skills which are skills your brain uses to remember, understand, and learn information. A major part of cognition that might be different in individuals and affect their ability to do motor imagery is attention. Attention is a cognitive process which is the ability to have your mind and thoughts focused on something, which usually results in gaining information or better understanding that thing. People’s ability to attend to something can vary, to attend means to direct one’s attention to be present and focused on a specific thing or task. If someone is not able to attend to something as easily that person is inattentive, which we think would affect motor imagery performance.

The purpose of this study is to examine how an individual’s inattentiveness influence’s their performance on motor imagery tasks by seeing if inattentiveness can predict motor imagery performance. The information that is gathered in this study will contribute to our understanding of how someone’s motor imagery performance can be impacted by their inattentiveness. This is important because if someone can’t perform motor imagery owing to a lack of attention, they would not benefit from motor imagery.

Project member: Darby Green

Does an aerobic exercise induced alteration in blood lactate concentration affect brain excitability?

Aerobic exercise is known to have positive effects on cardiovascular function. There is growing evidence to support its leading role in optimizing brain health. Previous literature has indicated that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise can drive increases in corticospinal excitability, a prerequisite of learning. However, the exact mechanisms of what is driving this change in corticospinal excitability continues to be explored. One hypothesis considers blood lactate as a variable which may facilitate this increase.

Our participants will complete a 20-minute bout of moderate intensity aerobic exercise and obtain measures of brain excitation using trans cranial magnetic stimulation and blood lactate pre-, post- and 10 minutes-post exercise. The goal of this study is to examine the effects of blood lactate concentration in relation to corticospinal excitability. We hope that the results of this study can be used to help determine if metabolic by-products such as lactate are driving forces for facilitating corticospinal excitability and optimal environments for learning.

Project member: Cassidy Klein

Investigating the task’s role in learning through motor imagery

Motor imagery can help us learn new and improve existing motor skills without physically performing the movement. However, much of the current research investigating learning through motor imagery use experimental task designs where participants are asked to imagine tapping their finger in a specific sequence as a response to a cue, usually in the form of an auditory cue. When compared to imagining a basketball-free throw, or imagining writing one’s name, such task designs don’t seem as motoric. The goal of this study is to determine how the nature of an imagery task affects learning through motor imagery. The results will help us better understand which parts of the brain are involved in motor learning, the mechanism involved, and spur novel avenues for future research.

Project member: Hudson Barr

fNIRS prototype vs. gold standard comparison study

We are testing the performance of a prototype wireless functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) device developed by Axem Neurotechnology (startup founded by LBRF lab members Chris Friesen and Tony Ingram) against an established fNIRS research system. Specifically, we’ll be looking to determine how these devices compare in their ability to measure the cerebral hemodynamic response to simple upper- and lower-extremity movements respectively.

Project members: Chris Friesen, Tony Ingram

Neurofeedback-based stroke rehabilitation at home

We are testing the feasibility of having stroke survivors perform upper-extremity rehabilitation at home using a rehabilitation system comprised of a tablet and headband that measures brain activity using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). This study will examine the feasibility of having stroke survivors perform neurofeedback-based rehabilitation independently in the comfort of their own home. The study will also examine the ability of a prototype fNIRS device developed by Axem Neurotechnology (startup founded by LBRF lab members Chris Friesen and Tony Ingram) to detect known biomarkers of post-stroke motor recovery based on the data collected during rehabilitation sessions.

Project members: Chris Friesen, Tony Ingram

Investigating the nature of motor imagery-based motor learning

Often in learning a new skill or activity that involves movement, we are told to imagine ourselves doing it. Motor imagery is just that, the act of creating the mental representation of a motor action. In comparison, motor imagery is distinctly different from motor execution which is when one physically executes a movement. Motor imagery is thought to use similar pathways as those utilized by motor execution which would suggest that motor imagery can help with learning a motor skill. In motor imagery learning is thought to occur by building upon the motor plan that is usually developed several stages before a movement is executed. However, the learning process in motor imagery is still not fully understood. This study will investigate the nature of motor imagery based learning by looking about what component of a motor task, motor plan or movement execution, is learned through motor imagery. (2022)

Project members:  Ernest Ng, Jack Solomon

Learning without doing. Error detection and correction in motor imagery-based learning

Motor imagery (MI) can help us learn new or improve motor skills without actually moving. In typical motor learning, information for the outcome of a movement (i.e. we reach for a coffee cup and knock it off the table) is compared against our plan for the given movement (i.e. how we decided to move our arm to grab the coffee cup). When this information is compared, we can adjust our motor plan to make our movement more accurate. However, in MI, we don’t move and therefore there is no way to compare our motor plan against the outcome of a movement. The goal of this study is to determine how we learn in MI by making it harder to use a brain area known to be involved in MI. The results of this study will help us better understand which parts of the brain are involved in error detection and correction MI based motor learning.

Project member:  Jack Solomon

Seeing is not always believing. Investigating the content of motor imagery-based learning using illusions

Motor imagery (MI) allows us to learn new or improve upon existing motor skills, however the content of what is being learnt is unclear. Visual illusions have been used in the motor execution domain to dissociate visual control of movement into two streams, vision for perception and vision for action. In this context, participant’s perception reflects the illusion but within a few trials, their motor performance “solves” the illusion without participants being aware of this change. However, these illusions are solved in different ways. Some require kinematic feedback from the movement whereas others only require perceptual feedback about the movement performed. The goal of this project is to employ two illusions, one that is solved perceptually and one that requires kinematic feedback to solve, to characterize changes in performance on these illusions after MI training. From the results of this study we can make inferences about what type of feedback is being simulated during MI training (perceptual vs kinematic).

Project members: Jack Solomon, Wenyi Lyu

Motor Imagery + Action observation: Is the sum greater than the parts?

Although action observation and mental imagery have typically been viewed as independent learning techniques, research has found increased learning outcomes when action observation and motor imagery are used simultaneously. While behavioural studies have shown the combined use of action observation and motor imagery results in greater learning outcomes, the link between neurophysiological processes behind the enhanced performance outcomes previous studies have found is largely unknown. The objective of this research is to investigate the neurophysiological processes underlying the enhanced behavioural outcomes previous research has reported when motor imagery and action observation are used simultaneously. In employing both behavioural and neurophysiological measures the proposed work will expand the knowledge base related to the mechanisms of AO and MI for motor skill learning.

Project member: Theresa Gaughan

Can you feel the burn? Probing the functional role of a brain region during motor imagery

Motor imagery, known as the mental rehearsal of movement, can be used to improve motor skills without physically executing the movement. While it is widely believed that motor imagery and motor execution are fundamentally similar, recent studies suggest that motor imagery and execution may not be as similar as we initially believed. One way to probe the difference between the two different modalities is by teasing apart the functional role of a specific brain area during the two different modalities. This study will look at the role of a particular brain area in using motor imagery to practice and learn a new skill. The results of this study help us understand similarities and differences between motor imagery and execution.

Project member: JungWoo Lee