Why motor imagery is not really motoric: towards a re-conceptualization in terms of effect-based action control

Patric Bach* (Corresponding Author), Cornelia Frank, Wilfried Kunde

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


Overt and imagined action seem inextricably linked. Both have similar timing, activate shared brain circuits, and motor imagery influences overt action and vice versa. Motor imagery is therefore often assumed to recruit the same motor processes that govern action execution, and which allow one to play through or simulate actions offline. Here, we advance a very different conceptualization. Accordingly, the links between imagery and overt action do not arise because action imagery is intrinsically motoric, but because action planning is intrinsically imaginistic and occurs in terms of the perceptual effects one want to achieve. Seen like this, the term 'motor imagery' is a misnomer of what is more appropriately portrayed as 'effect imagery'. In this article, we review the long-standing arguments for effect-based accounts of action, which are often ignored in motor imagery research. We show that such views provide a straightforward account of motor imagery. We review the evidence for imagery-execution overlaps through this new lens and argue that they indeed emerge because every action we execute is planned, initiated and controlled through an imagery-like process. We highlight findings that this new view can now explain and point out open questions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Research
Publication statusSubmitted - 24 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Open Access via the Springer Compact Agreement


  • imagery
  • motor imagery
  • action planning
  • action control
  • intentional action
  • forward models
  • inverse models


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