Bohan, M., Pharmer, J. A., & Stokes, A. F. (1999). When does imagery practice enhance performance on a motor task? Perceptual and Motor Skills, 88, 651-658.

This investigation sought to discover when, during the learning process, imagery practice confers the most benefit. Ss (M = 19; F = 11) performed a targeting/tracking task using a joystick with an image on a screen. Movement and response times were recorded. Three groups: early learning, intermediate, and late learning were formed.

The early learning group received a 10-trial pretest. The intermediate learning group received 20 physical trials before receiving the 10-trial pretest. The late learning group had 40 physical trials and then the 10-trial pretest. Immediately after the 10 pretest trials, Ss were given a syllogistic reasoning task to distract them from performing any mental imagery associated with the learning task. After the distraction, Ss were give 20 trials of imagery practice in which the joystick was disabled. On each trial, Ss placed the right hand on the joystick and were shown the cursor and target for 2 seconds. Ss were instructed to feel the movement of the control stick and visualize the resulting movement of the cursor. At the end of the 20 imagery trials, Ss again performed the distracting syllogistic reasoning task, and finally repeated the 10-trial pretest.

The early and intermediate learning groups exhibited significant improvements in movement speed following imagery. No significant changes occurred in reaction times.

As Ss improve in movement time tasks, it becomes more difficult to improve. Learning improvements in timed tasks are not linear. One reason why a difference between early and late learning occurred could be the difficulty for the late group to show gains of a similar magnitude. Usually, with timed tasks like those used in this study, scores are normalized, with a log scale for time being used.

All groups improved. Score standard deviations were largest in magnitude and variation in the early group, least in magnitude and variation for the intermediate group, and middling for magnitude and variation in the late learning group. A different data treatment and analysis might provide different conclusions for this study.

Implication. Mental practice of a targeting/tracking skill improves learning of the skill. Imagery should be used through the whole learning experience.

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