New research studying the link between guided imagery, also called positive visualization, and how it impacts motor learning and sport performance could potentially help patients who have suffered a stroke or struggle with diseases such as Parkinson’s.
Phillip Post, Ph.D., an associate professor at New Mexico State University, recently presented his research at an international conference at Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua in Mexico.
“The research presented suggests that imagery might be effective for enhancing learner’s skill acquisition of tasks that contain greater cognitive elements, such as tasks that require decision making or remembering a sequence or pattern, as opposed to motor elements, or tasks that require correct skill execution, like a soccer kick,” he said.
“However, with more experienced performers, imagery appears to be effective on a range of tasks, including both motor and cognitive.”
Post notes he is exploring two different lines of research. One looks at the application of imagery, particularly looking at how learners acquire new skills and seeing how mentally rehearsing a particular sports skill or motor task affects their skill acquisition of it. The other looks at how imagery enhances the performance of well-rehearsed skills.
“We look at that in terms of the mental strategy of learning and also in terms of sport performance,” he said. “We also do some basic motor learning types of experiments to see what practice conditions facilitate skill acquisition.
“We want to apply these not only to instructional settings, but also to rehab settings, where practitioners need to design practice protocols that are going to facilitate their patients’ skill acquisition skills or help them relearn skills.”
As part of his research, Post uses an anticipation timing device where participants use a ping pong paddle to time their swing as a line of light bulbs turn on, mimicking the path of a ping pong ball.
“When you try to catch a baseball or an object, you have to be able to time it so that when the object arrives to you, you have your hands up with the arrival of that particular ball or object,” Post said. “It’s pretty prominent with a lot of daily skills, things such as driving or sports. We want to be on target so that we are arriving at the location of where that ball or that object is going to be.”
According to Post, the device allows him to measure to the millisecond how good participants are at timing their responses.
He uses three groups to conduct his research: One that physically practices their timing; one that images their timing; and a group that prepares both physically and mentally. He also uses a control group.
“With this apparatus, we want to know can learners improve their ability to intercept a light upon its arrival at a target location,” Post said. “How does mentally rehearsing affect a participant’s ability to learn this particular task?”
He added that he hopes that in the near future, his research will help patients who have suffered a stroke or have been diagnosed with diseases such as Parkinson’s.
“We hope to run interventions or studies to help the various clinical populations reacquire tasks faster and reduce their physical therapy time,” Post said.