Many studies have demonstrated that training utilizing action observation and/or motor imagery improves motor performance. These two techniques are widely used in sports and in the rehabilitation of movement-related disorders. Motor imagery has also been used for brain-machine/computer interfaces (BMI/BCI). During both action observation and motor imagery, motor-related regions such as the premotor cortex and inferior parietal lobule are activated. This is common to actual execution and are involved with the underlying mechanisms of motor learning without execution. Since it is easier to record brain activity during action observation and motor imagery than that during actual sport movements, action observation, and motor imagery of sports skills or complex whole body movements have been utilized to investigate how neural mechanisms differ across the performance spectrum ranging from beginner to expert. However, brain activity during action observation and motor imagery is influenced by task complexity (i.e., simple vs complex movements). Furthermore, temporal changes in brain activity during actual execution along the long time course of motor learning are likely nonlinear and would be different from that during action observation or motor imagery. Activity in motor-related regions during action observation and motor imagery is typically greater in experts than in nonexperts, while the activity during actual execution is often smaller in experts than in nonexperts.
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