Mental Practice Among Learners


Mental practice has been embraced and favored as an effective method to promote understanding and comprehension of tasks among learners. It involves mental imagination to imitate an action that is intended to be undertaken afterwards. The purpose of this pre-empted imaginary task is to improve the quality of the final task when it is actually carried out. Decety, Jeannerod, and Prablanc (1989) assert that this practice has gained popularity as it has been proven to be effective among sports people, resulting in improved performance. In this research paper, we will seek to analyze various studies that have been carried out on mental practice as a technique to promote learning.

Applications of Mental Practice

The increased use of mental practice has been bolstered by numerous scientific researches in the field of cognitive science, psychology, and physiology. Various researchers have shown that there is a very strong relationship in terms of time interval in real and imaginary actions. In order to get a clear picture on the effects of mental practice on individual performance, an examination of a related case study will be undertaken. In this case, we will study how two types of mental practice influenced sixteen different piano learners. The pianists performed strange music during trials with the presence and absence of auditory feedback. They were later instructed to mentally practice the missing feedback and afterwards they performed normally from memory. Highben and Palmer (2004) mention that the observation of mistakes showed that candidates with great auditoria ability had little problems when the auditory feedbacks were removed. When the results were compared with those obtained during practice, it was observed that candidates with good rankings of playing by ear did well on aural talents and played well from memory without auditory feedback. The results show that correct auditory image reflection is a vital factor for improved performance aided by memory. This means that apart from physical practice, mental practice is likely to influence quality of performance especially when learning new activities. In comparing performances of skilled and novice pianists, the errors committed by the novice suggested that he depended more on motor information while learning than the skilled pianist, this shows that the amateur pianist uses less mental practice as compared to his counterpart. However, mental practice can also be carried out in different ways in order to obtain best results. The study shows that mental practice supported by the auditory system gives a better outcome as compared to mental study without this kind of support. It can be concluded therefore that mental and physical study go hand in hand and one cannot give a desirable result without the other. This is due to the fact that the skills applied in physical practice are either nurtured mentally or require mental renewal in order to operate.

Mental practice has proven to be a very important aspect in healthcare and the role it plays in ensuring healthy living cannot be ignored. It plays a vital part in reinstating physical ability in healthcare, for example, in the restoration of people suffering from numerous mental disorders. It has also been used to enhance balance among older females. The latter case was observed in a study involving a group of women that involved the use of idealized visual and kinesthetic mental images given to them in mental practice lessons. The group of thirty-six women aged above seventy was allotted in three test groups: Group A, nonsense; Group B, relaxation and Group C, ideokinetic facilitation. Results based on time measurement of one-legged balance were evaluated after random tests. The results obtained showed that there was considerable improvement amid baseline and lapse time in all the groups (Fanslen et al., 1985). This research thus implied that if a physical task is practiced mentally, then there are high chances of improved performance in that particular task. Mental practice has also been used in the treatment of serious cancer illnesses where patients are directed to use their mental procedures to help them in the recovery process. This always comes as a last resort for patients who have failed to respond to all kinds of treatments.

Theories about the effects of mental practice have also been discussed. Indeed, the main component of mental practice involves learning how to undertake the process. The fact that the learner is required to rehearse mentally and predict the consequences of his actions from past experiences can lead to the exclusion of some undesirable actions from his plans. This analysis thus shows that mental practice involves very little motor learning as most learning is rapid and connected with cognitive basics of the task. There are also suggestions that during mental practice, the motor bars are usually being run off but the learners instead choose to capitalize on the gains and hide their muscular contractions. In a research by Hird et al (1991) on implicit speech where subjects were told to imagine speaking a given sentence, patterns of electromyographic activity were shown from the vocal musculature that were similar to those observed during actual speech. Many possibilities have been proposed for the above occurrence.

Several studies show that physical practice is only effective when combined with mental studies. However, the following study can help determine the individual effectiveness of each of the practices without the support of the other. This was demonstrated in an experiment involving 12 groups. In the study, 6 groups were told to arrange dissimilar pegs on squares drawn on a sheet as quick as they could while the other six groups used a mental approach. For each group and task, before and after measurements were taken and compiled. Three other groups undertook different numbers of trials for the same practice using both mental and physical practice. The test group was given a different task for the same time period. The before and after results showed that the group that used an absolute mental practice was more effective than the test group that had no practice, however, it was not as effective as the group that used an absolute physical practice (Hird et al., 1991). In the groups with a combination of mental and physical practice, results showed that the performance of groups with a high percentage of physical practice were better than groups with a high percentage of mental practice. The results obtained therefore suggest that for effective learning to be achieved, physical practice should be given priority over mental practice. This shows that physical practice is more superior to mental practice, however, we must admit that there are circumstances where mental practice is more effective, for example, in clinical therapy and in the treatment of severe cancer illnesses.


Decety, J., Jeannerod, M., and Prablanc, C. (1989). The timing of mentally represented actions. Behavioral Brain Research, 34, 35-42.

Fansler, L., Poff, C., & Shepard, F. (1985). Effects of Mental Practice on Balance in Elderly Women. Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association, 65(9), 1332-1338.

Highben, Z., and Palmer C. (2004). Effects of Auditory and Motor Mental Practice in Memorized Piano Performance. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 159, 58-65.

Hird, J., Lander, D., Thomas, J., & Horan, J. (1991). Physical practice is superior to mental practice in enhancing cognitive and motor task performance. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 13(3), 281 – 293.

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