Wednesday, April 06, 2005

VIsual and Motor Imagery- Separate and Together

We've been seeing more interesting research studies looking into the the respective roles of visual and motor (or shall we say sensory-motor?) imagery. Although the full length paper is not freely accessible yet, the punchline for the study is that although visual and motor imagery are tightly coordinated in imagined activities like walking on a narrow plank, they were also distinguishable by difference types of interference (for instance engaging in motor tasks interfere with motor imagery). These results might have implications for the ways we should use imagery, learning environment, and understanding how different kinds of imagery work together.

Considering the importance of imagery to problem solving, it's surprising how little thought is given to its discussion in education. Sport coaches certainly use imagery a great deal, but imagery for sports achievement is different from imagery used for spatial problem solving, scientific or mathematical problem solving, and, get the idea.

Although the numbers are still low, we were intrigued to see so far that 31% of poll respondants solve problems by visual imagery, while 20% are words, 17% symbols, 11%, hands-on. Because for many problem solving is nonverbal process, it might tell us why it can be hard to teach to others.

Visual and Motor ImageryAbstract


  1. It is particularly sad that this area doesn't get more attention given the vital role that visual thinking has played in scientific discovery (and engineering). Formal education tries to pass on the information from science in a way that very different form how that information was discovered. As a result someone can become adept at using what is known, while lacking the skills to operate in a new context or domain.

    When you learn electromagnetism field lines are usually discussed for about 15 minutes before delving into the algebra. But when Faraday laid the groundwork for Maxwell's treaties on electromagnetism he relied almost exclusively on visual thinking and field lines and used almost no formal mathematics at all. Maxwell was able to do what he did in large part because he was uniquely able to follow Faraday line of visual thought and combine and advance it with formal mathematics.

    Einstein, Feynman, Faraday, Maxwell, Tesla, Mandelbrot and a host of others relied extensively on visual thinking.

  2. Totally agree, Rob! Too often science is delivered on a platter to students with little regard for how discoveries were actually made to answer real questions. It gives a false impression of the real process of discovery and science, and students may not learn how to use different lines of inquiry to resolve ambiguities until college or graduate school.