Some background studies to imagery work for painful conditions | part 1

Brain. 2001 Oct;124(Pt 10):2098-104.

Pain and the body schema: evidence for peripheral effects on mental representations of movement.

Schwoebel J, Friedman R, Duda N, Coslett HB.


Some accounts of body representations postulate a real-time representation of the body in space generated by proprioceptive, somatosensory, vestibular and other sensory inputs; this representation has often been termed the ‘body schema’. To examine whether the body schema is influenced by peripheral factors such as pain, we asked patients with chronic unilateral arm pain to determine the laterality of pictured hands presented at different orientations. Previous chronometric findings suggest that performance on this task depends on the body schema, in that it appears to involve mentally rotating one’s hand from its current position until it is aligned with the stimulus hand. We found that, as in previous investigations, participants’ response times (RTs) reflected the degree of simulated movement as well as biomechanical constraints of the arm. Importantly, a significant interaction between the magnitude of mental rotation and limb was observed: RTs were longer for the painful arm than for the unaffected arm for large-amplitude imagined movements; controls exhibited symmetrical RTs. These findings suggest that the body schema is influenced by pain and that this task may provide an objective measure of pain.


Arch Neurol. 2009 May;66(5):557-60.

The mirror neuron system.


Mirror neurons are a class of neurons, originally discovered in the premotor cortex of monkeys, that discharge both when individuals perform a given motor act and when they observe others perform that same motor act. Ample evidence demonstrates the existence of a cortical network with the properties of mirror neurons (mirror system) in humans. The human mirror system is involved in understanding others’ actions and their intentions behind them, and it underlies mechanisms of observational learning. Herein, we will discuss the clinical implications of the mirror system.


Annu Rev Neurosci. 2004;27:169-92.

The mirror-neuron system.

Rizzolatti G, Craighero L.


A category of stimuli of great importance for primates, humans in particular, is that formed by actions done by other individuals. If we want to survive, we must understand the actions of others. Furthermore, without action understanding, social organization is impossible. In the case of humans, there is another faculty that depends on the observation of others’ actions: imitation learning. Unlike most species, we are able to learn by imitation, and this faculty is at the basis of human culture. In this review we present data on a neurophysiological mechanism–the mirror-neuron mechanism–that appears to play a fundamental role in both action understanding and imitation. We describe first the functional properties of mirror neurons in monkeys. We review next the characteristics of the mirror-neuron system in humans. We stress, in particular, those properties specific to the human mirror-neuron system that might explain the human capacity to learn by imitation. We conclude by discussing the relationship between the mirror-neuron system and language.


Acta Psychol (Amst). 2001 Apr;107(1-3):155-81.

Integrating cognitive psychology, neurology and neuroimaging.

Parsons LM.


In the last decade, there has been a dramatic increase in research effectively integrating cognitive psychology, functional neuroimaging, and behavioral neurology. This new work is typically conducting basic research into aspects of the human mind and brain. The present review features as examples of such integrations two series of studies by the author and his colleagues. One series, employing object recognition, mental motor imagery, and mental rotation paradigms, clarifies the nature of a cognitive process, imagined spatial transformations used in shape recognition. Among other implications, it suggests that when recognizing a hand’s handedness, imagining one’s body movement depends on cerebrally lateralized sensory-motor structures and deciding upon handedness depends on exact match shape confirmation. The other series, using cutaneous, tactile, and auditory pitch discrimination paradigms, elucidates the function of a brain structure, the cerebellum. It suggests that the cerebellum has non-motor sensory support functions upon which optimally fine sensory discriminations depend. In addition, six key issues for this integrative approach are reviewed. These include arguments for the value and greater use of: rigorous quantitative meta-analyses of neuroimaging studies; stereotactic coordinate-based data, as opposed to surface landmark-based data; standardized vocabularies capturing the elementary component operations of cognitive and behavioral tasks; functional hypotheses about brain areas that are consistent with underlying microcircuitry; an awareness that not all brain areas implicated by neuroimaging or neurology are necessarily directly involved in the associated cognitive or behavioral task; and systematic approaches to integrations of this kind.


Behav Brain Res. 1996 May;77(1-2):45-52.

The neurophysiological basis of motor imagery.

Decety J.


Motor imagery may be defined as a dynamic state during which representations of a given motor act are internally rehearsed in working memory without any overt motor output. What neural processes underlie the generation of motor imagery? This paper reviews physiological evidence from measurements of regional brain activity and from measurements of autonomic responses in normal subjects and behavioral observations from brain damaged patients. It is proposed that motor imagery shares neural mechanisms with processes used in motor control. This review emphasizes the importance of the prefrontal cortex and its connections to the basal ganglia in maintaining dynamic motor representations in working memory. This view fits with the general idea that the prefrontal cortex is responsible for the creation and maintenance of explicit representations that guide thought and action.


Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 1996 Mar;3(2):87-93.

Do imagined and executed actions share the same neural substrate?

Decety J.


This paper addresses the issue of the functional correlates of motor imagery, using mental chronometry, monitoring the autonomic responses and measuring cerebral blood flow in humans. The timing of mentally simulated actions closely mimic actual movement times. Autonomic responses during motor imagery parallel the autonomic responses to actual exercise. Cerebral blood flow increases are observed in the motor cortices involved in the programming of actual movement (i.e. premotor cortex, anterior cingulate, inferior parietal lobule and cerebellum). These three sources of data provide converging support for the hypothesis that imagined and executed actions share, to some extent, the same central structures.



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