Motor imagery entails task-set inhibition

  • Juliane ScheilEmail author
  • Thomas Kleinsorge
  • Baptist Liefooghe
Original Article


Motor imagery requires the covert execution of a movement without any overt motor output. Previous studies indicated that motor imagery results in the prolonged inhibition of motor commands. In the present study, we investigated whether motor imagery also leads to the inhibition of more abstract task representations. To do so, we investigated the effect of motor imagery on n − 2 repetition costs, which offer an index of the extent to which task representations are inhibited. Participants switched among three tasks and among two response modes: overt and covert responding (i.e., motor imagery). N – 2 repetition costs were present when the current trial required an overt response but absent when the current trial required a covert response. Furthermore, n − 2 repetition costs were more pronounced when trial n − 1 required a covert response rather than an overt response. This pattern of results suggests that motor imagery also leads to the inhibition of abstract task representations. We discuss our findings in view of current conceptualizations of motor imagery and argue that the inhibitory mechanism entailed by motor imagery targets more than motor commands alone. Finally, we also relate our findings to the mechanisms underlying the inhibition of task representations.



The research reported in this article was supported by Grant SCHE 2004/1-1 of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). BL is supported by grant BOF16/MET_V/002 of Ghent University and grant G009517 N by the Flemish Government.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical standards

The present study was performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down the Declaration of Helsinki and approved by the Ethical Committee of IfADo.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juliane Scheil
    • 1
    Email author
  • Thomas Kleinsorge
    • 1
  • Baptist Liefooghe
    • 2
  1. 1.Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human FactorsDortmundGermany
  2. 2.Department of Experimental-Clinical and Health PsychologyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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