Tokyo, Dec 25: Researchers from Tokyo Metropolitan University have shown that visual aids which create the illusion of movement, like a screen placed in front of one’s hand showing the hand move, can improve motor performance and the early stages of motor learning.
Compared to observing third-person motions, functional near-infrared spectroscopy data also showed greater changes in brain activity in regions associated with motor learning.
The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, might inform new treatment strategies for hemiplegic stroke patients.
Visual-motor illusion (VMI) is the curious illusion of watching your body move even while it is still.
Watching the screen simply entails action observation (AO).
Previous work has already shown that VMI and AO entail different responses in the brain, but the wider implications of VMI remained unclear.
A team of scientists led by Assistant Professor Katsuya Sakai from Tokyo Metropolitan University have shown that VMI can improve motor performance and early-stage motor learning.
During the study, the VMI group showed more improvement than the AO group, both immediately after the video was shown to volunteers, and one hour afterwards.
To understand what is happening in the brain, the team used functional near-infrared spectroscopy, a non-invasive technique that helps track activity in specific parts of the brain using external probes.
They were able to find key differences between AO and VMI volunteers in parts of the brain associated with learning new movements.
Importantly, these changes were found to persist an hour after the visual stimuli, matching what they found from performance on the task.
This was also in line with previous findings from the group showing how connectivity in parts of the brain responsible for motor execution was enhanced by VMI, said authors.