Frontal brain areas are more involved during motor imagery than during motor execution/preparation of a response sequence

Rob van der Lubbe*, Jagna Sobierajewicz, Marijtje L.A. Jongsma, Willem B. Verwey, Anna Przekoracka-Krawczyk

*Corresponding author for this work

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Results of several neuroimaging studies support the functional equivalence model, which states that motor imagery (MI) and motor execution (ME) involve the same processes, except for the final execution component. In contrast, the motor-cognitive model implies that MI additionally involves frontal executive control processes. However, according to some authors MI may actually be more comparable to motor preparation (MP). In the current electroencephalographic study, a version of the discrete sequence production paradigm was employed in which human participants initially had to prepare a sequence of five finger movements that subsequently had to be executed, imagined, or withheld. MI, ME, and MP were compared by computing event-related (de)-synchronization in the theta, alpha/mu, and beta bands. Results revealed a major increase in frontal theta power during MI as compared to ME and MP. At the end of the examined intervals, a posterior reduction in alpha power was present during ME and MP, but not during MI. Finally, above sensorimotor areas a decrease in beta power was observed that was most pronounced in the case of ME. The increase of frontal theta activity during MI may reflect increased effort, while the absence of a reduction in posterior alpha power suggests no major involvement of visuospatial attention and/or visual imagery. The present findings favor the motor-cognitive model, as it predicts extra involvement of frontal executive processes during MI.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-86
Number of pages16
JournalInternational journal of psychophysiology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021


  • UT-Hybrid-D
  • Motor execution
  • Discrete sequence production task
  • EEG
  • Sequence learning
  • Motor imagery
  • Motor preparation

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