Thinking through to better learning

Motor imagery drives brain plasticity that ultimately underlies learning. But despite knowing that motor imagery can help us learn, we don’t know very much about the best way to use motor imagery to help us learn. In this study, we are examining what changes are happening in the brain as we learn a new skill through both motor imagery and physical practice. This study will help us understand how imagined practice helps us learn a new skill compared to physically practicing the skill, and how we can leverage the effects of imagined practice for learning.

Project members: Sarah Krautner (PhD project), Alexandra Stratas, Jen MacArthur, Taylor Hadskis


Examining brain excitability during motor imagery

Motor imagery widely activates the sensorimotor network, leading to brain plasticity that underlies learning. One drawback to motor imagery is that it is considered to be mentally fatiguing. When we are mentally fatigued, our brains are less excitable, which means that the effectiveness of motor imagery for learning is hindered. In this study, we are looking at how brain excitability is reduced after different durations of imagery practice. Ultimately, this research contributes to our understanding of using motor imagery for learning.

Project members: JungWoo Lee (Honours project), Sarah Kraeutner, Devan Pancura


Can you imagine? Comparing assessments of imagery ability

Motor imagery, the mental rehearsal of movement, can help us learn and improve skills. Because motor imagery is performed ‘in your head’, it is difficult to assess someone’s ability to perform motor imagery. Assessing imagery ability is important as one wants to make sure that their method of practice is effective before engaging in it. While there are many different tools to assess motor imagery ability, we still don’t know which tool is the best. This study seeks to determine which assessment tool is the best, by comparing the tools against how well we learn through motor imagery. Ultimately, this work will help us understand how we can assess motor imagery ability.

Project members: Sarah Kraeutner, Alexandra Stratus


Examining the role of the parietal cortex in motor imagery

After a brain injury, a person can lose the ability to move parts of their body. After a brain injury, mental practice of movements, or motor imagery, can be used to promote recovery. However, one part of the brain that we think is necessary to do motor imagery is commonly damaged after brain injury, particularly stroke. To use motor imagery to help people with brain injury recover, we need to make sure that damage to this brain area does not impact on practicing skills using motor imagery. This study is looking at the specific role of this brain area in using motor imagery.

Project members: Sarah Kraeutner, JungWoo Lee


The relationship between regular physical activity and brain excitability after an acute bout of aerobic exercise

Learning and rehabilitation are dependent on our brain’s ability to change. We can make our brain more susceptible to changes by increasing its excitability, or ‘priming’ the brain. Aerobic exercise is an exciting method of priming the brain, and has been shown to increase excitability in brain areas that weren’t involved in controlling the exercise, for example, pedaling a bike can prime brain areas of the hands. Priming the brain before therapy may improve clinical outcomes, so understanding how aerobic exercise does this is important. In this study, we will investigate whether regular physical activity behaviour has an influence on this priming effect at various different aerobic exercise intensities. This will consist of tracking young adults with two accelerometers and then measuring brain excitability before and after a low, moderate, and high aerobic exercise bout using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.

Project Members:  Brittany Roberts


Imagine that! Probing different brain regions in motor imagery-based learning

Motor imagery (MI) can help us improve skills by driving brain plasticity that underlies learning and relearning after brain injury. But we don’t know how damage to different parts of your brain (e.g., after brain injury) might prevent a person from being able to do motor imagery. To use motor imagery to help people with brain injury recover, we need to make sure that damage to brain areas does not impact on practicing skills using motor imagery. This study will look at the role of one particular brain area in using motor imagery to practice and learn a new skill. This study will also help us understand the roles of different brain regions in MI performance and learning.

Project members: Jack Solomon, Sarah Kraeutner


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 members:  Tristan Clarke (Honour’s project), 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


Don’t move! The timing and mechanism of movement inhibition in motor imagery

Motor imagery (MI) and motor execution (ME) are two methods one can use to learn motor skills. The primary behavioral difference between the two modalities is that ME results in overt movement whereas MI does not. Two theories exist two explain this difference. The first indicates that movement inhibition in MI is embedded in planning for the movement and the second suggests that the motor command is stopped after it is made. This study used neuroimaging to capture brain activity from a reach and grasp task to identify when movement inhibition occurs in MI to identify which theory is correct. Afterwards, a second analysis was performed to understand which parts of the brain are responsible for movement inhibition in MI

Project members:  Jack Solomon, Sarah Kraeutner