Imagery and the Brain

Dr. Christopher R. Madan, a postdoctoral researcher working at the Department of Psychology at Boston College, presented a research seminar entitled “Movement imagery: Measurement and role in cognition” in the PESS on February 7th. Chris has a B.Sc. in Psychology and a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Alberta, Canada, and has worked as a visiting scientist at the Department of Systems Neuroscience at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, in Hamburg, Germany. Kevin Wolf, a 4th Year Sport and Exercise Sciences Student in the PESS Department attended the seminar and provides a summary of the Dr. Madan’s presentation.

Going Green

Chris is a member of the GO GREEN EX H2020 consortium and a contributor to the forthcoming  Routledge text on green exercise co-edited by Dr. Tadhg MacIntyre and Dr. Aoife Donnelly (TCD). His visit was part of the preparation for forthcoming grant calls and future collaborative activity. His expertise in visual cognition and motor imagery is highly relevant to studies that will explore the memorability of green exercise and its impact on prospective memory.  Dr Madan has broad research interests within the fields of cognitive psychology, environmental psychology and neuroimaging. His research is focused on elucidating conceptual and theoretical issues in addition to methodological challenges in cognitive neuroscience. His recent post-doctoral work involves investigating issues regarding emotion memory and decision making but his research interests include brain morphology and motor imagery which was the topic of his talk at UL.

Novel Test of Imagery

Dr. Madan told the audience how he developed a new tool to measure mental imagery ability called the Test of Ability in Movement Imagery, or TAMI. The aim of TAMI in its development was to develop a more objective test of movement imagery ability. Studies of movement imagery typically use established movement imagery questionnaires such as the Vividness of Movement Imagery Questionnaire (VMIQ; Isaac, Marks, & Russell, 1986) or the Movement Imagery Questionnaire (MIQ; Hall & Pongrac, 1983). Unfortunately, results from self-report measures such as these may be confounded by a number of potential biases. For example, certain populations may rate themselves as better in movement imagery. An athlete may be subject to social desirability bias as it is expected that an athlete would be better at vividly and accurately imagining a sporting movement than a non-athlete. Alternatively, they may simply have greater confidence in their imagery ability. Similarly, older adults may overestimate their level of physical and mental ability. TAMI seeks to address these biases.

The TAMI consists of a number of movement imagery tasks. Participants are asked to visual the performance of a motor task through a series of written movement instructions. They are then presented with a number of images depicting different body positions and instructed to choose whether the movement instructions they have received correspond with any one of the images. This requires participants to explicitly imagine the images that have been described in the written movement instructions which provide a measure of their movement imagery ability.

Testing of the TAMI reveal that Mean TAMI scores are slightly negatively skewed indicating a distribution which is biased towards higher scores. Nevertheless, mean performance was far enough away from a ceiling effect as to allow for comparison between populations that have a high mean score. Encouragingly TAMI has demonstrated high test-retest correlation suggesting that the test is internally consistent and therefore reliable. Comparison of TAMI with extant measures of movement imagery reveals high concurrent validity, suggesting that TAMI is a valid measure of movement imagery ability.

What are the Future Research Applications?

TAMI was developed to provide an objective measure for comparison of movement imagery ability between distinct populations, for example athletic and non-athletic populations. However, it has potential to be used in future research in a wide range of athletic, clinical and cognitive research. Questions focused on gender differences in imagery abilities and the use of computer based measures of imagery ability. Chris also shared the narrative of his personal research trajectory as a researcher, writing his first paper as an undergraduate student, publishing a textbook while at graduate school and forming meaningful collaborations with almost a dozen research labs. His ingenuity was highlighted by his demonstration of a 3D brain (his own right cerebral hemisphere) which he had printed with a comparison brain from an 80 year old which provided an interesting vignette to finish on.

Kevin Wolf is a 4th Year Sport and Exercise Sciences Student in the PESS Department