Limb Preference and Skill Level Dependence During the Imagery of a Whole-Body Movement: A Functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy Study

Selina C. Wriessnegger*, Kris Unterhauser, Günther Bauernfeind

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the past years motor imagery (MI) turned out to be also an innovative and effective tool for motor learning and improvement of sports performance. Whereas many studies investigating sports MI focusing on upper or lower limbs involvement, knowledge about involved neural structures during whole-body movements is still limited. In the present study we investigated brain activity of climbers during a kinesthetic motor imagery (KMI) climbing task with different difficulties by means of functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). Twenty healthy participants were split into two groups according to their climbing skill level. The aim of the current study is investigating neural correlates of a whole-body sports MI task with an additional focus on skill level dependency. Climbing experts and non-experts imagined bouldering an “easy” and “difficult” route from a first-person perspective while hemodynamic responses were recorded simultaneously. We found significant differences between the two climbing routes, easy and difficult within participants as well as between the two groups of different climbing skill levels. Overall beginners showed increased hemodynamic responses compared to experts in all defined regions of interest (ROI) supporting the claim of the neural efficiency hypothesis (NEH). Even though climbing is a complex, coordinated movement of upper and lower limbs we found a stronger activation focus of the upper limbs, especially of the dominant hand-area, while the foot area seems to be deactivated or inhibited simultaneously. Summarizing, these findings provide novel insights into brain activation during the imagery of a whole-body movement and its relation to climbing expertise.

Original languageEnglish
Article number900834
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2022


  • climbing
  • fNIRS (functional near infrared spectroscopy)
  • hemodynamic response
  • motor imagery
  • whole-body movement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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