Proneness for exercise, cognitive and psychophysiological consequences of action observation

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Objectives:Physical exercise has benefits that go beyond health and well-being, namely in cognitive, motor and psychophysiological areas. The discovery of a shared neural network between action observation and execution (Action-Observation Network) led us to hypothesize that watching human motor action might improve cognitive and motor aspects of performance and proneness for exercise.Design/Methods:Sixty participants viewed a Motor (M) (n = 30) or a Non-Motor (NM) (n = 30) movie with strong or weak content of motoric features of human action, respectively. Performance in d2 Attention test, Fitts' Motor task, and a Proneness for Exercise Visual Analog Scale was assessed before and after movie visualization, in a cross-sectional study. Psychophysiological measures were recorded throughout the experiment.Results:Our results demonstrate an increase in proneness for exercise, and greater improvement in attention-related cognitive aspects in the M group. The aforementioned benefits of action observation did not modulate motor performance. A mental effort deployment was associated to the decrease in heart rate variability after visualization of the NM movie. This was not conducive to attention channeling on task performance. Conversely, M movie observation seemed to be associated to a cognitive load release, affording attention deployment for the resolution of the subsequent tasks.Conclusions:It seems that some benefits associated to physical practice can result from the mere visualization of movies with human motor action content. These are the improvement in attention-related cognitive skills associated to psychophysiological changes that support a disengagement from mental effort. Crucially, the observation of exercise behavior seems to be a key factor for exercise adherence.

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