While use of mental imagery has been widely promoted as an effective complement to physical training, the scientific evidence to confirm that visualization enhances motor skills performance is only now emerging. Recent studies comparing motor skill acquisition by physical practice alone, by mental practice and by a combination of both have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine how these methods activate the brain. The studies have shown that mental imagery and motor skill performance produce activation in overlapping, but not identical, areas of the brain.
According to a study and comment published in Frontiers in Neuroscience (2009; 3 , 5–6; and 2008; 2 , 1–7), combined motor and mental training recruits both motor and visual systems, enhancing connections between different brain regions and thus leading to improvements in learning. Researchers noted that these findings could be valuable both for athletes who want to improve performance and for stroke survivors and other patients with neurodegenerative issues who are interested in rehabilitation.