Psychology (imagery usage)

Last Updated: 26 Jan 2021
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For a number of years imagery has been known to be an effective method to enhance athletic performance and sporting success. Currently Imagery researchers have majorly became interested in the mechanisms behind imagery’s performance-enhancing effects and how these can be maximized. It has also transpired through neuroscience research that a “functional equivalence” exists between imagery and performance of a skill or movement, as they are both triggered by the same neurophysiological processes (Decety & Jeannerod, 1996). A cognitive neuroscience approach to motor imagery in sport was presented by Holmes and Collins (2001) they examined current research efforts in neuroscience and applied the findings to developing a deeper understanding of motor imagery as athletes commonly use it. In particular, they highlighted the implications of the notion of the functional equivalence of the motor imagery and motor execution systems for sport psychologists. As a result, it has become one of the most popular psychological strategies employed by athletes, coaches, and sport psychologists. Holmes and Collins (2001) developed a PETTLEP model that included 7 different factors: Physical, Environment, Task, Timing, Learning, Emotion and Perspective. The PETTLEP model recommends that influencing the physical nature of imagery to near motor preparation will stimulate the peripheral receptors that are related with task execution and increase the psychophysiological congruence of motor preparation and motor imagery at the central sites, ultimately strengthening the memory trace (Beisteiner, Hollinger, Lindinger, Lang, & Berthoz, 1995).

Imagery has been defined as “using all the senses to re-create or create an experience in the mind” (Vealey & Greenleaf, 2001). Imagery is widely known to be used in any physical activity to improve performance, skill and change behavioural problems. Imagery in sport is a form of stimulation which is similar to a real sensory experience, except imagery stimulation occurs in the mind. Imagery can also be known as ‘visualization’ and there are 4 different types of senses which are all important and they are known as the kinaesthetic, auditory, tactile and olfactory senses but the kinaesthetic sense to athletes is the most important one because when our body moves in several ways we can feel it and this helps athletes improve performance. Through imagery you are able to re-create positive experiences that have previously happened or picture new events to prepare yourself mentally for performance. Holmes and Collins suggested that all athletes should be actively involved in the imagery experience.

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(Adapted from Holmes and Collins, 2001, 2002)

The PETTLEP model of intervention are useful in daily clinic to facilitate learning, performance skills, strategies, modifying cognitions, regulating arousal and competitive anxiety in the handling of athletes and sports performance. For example if there was a football team that wanted to use imagery to prepare for the possibility of going to penalties of a tournament, the PETTLEP model would be: Physical: The players would imagine being in shortage of breath and they would even make themselves shortage of breath prior to imaging to stimulate the state they would be in during a match. The players could then perform the imagery in the standing stance wearing their kit and boots in the exactly same way they would when they practise or actually taking a penalty. Environment: When wanting to create an atmosphere the imagery used would be in the competition scene using photos, videos and sounds of the crowd to make an environment as if the players are actually taking a penalty. Task: Should be reflected in the image which means each player should focus internally and concentrate on factors such as which corner in the goal they are going to place the ball. Each player should include prompts they would work on when taking an actual penalty an example of this would be, never look at the goalkeeper and just solely focus on the ball and wait for the referees whistle to begin their run up. This should be mirrored in the imagery picture as a result. Timing: The penalty planning and carrying out the run up and flight of the ball should be imaged in real time.

Learning: When the athletes manage to master the technique then they can then move onto other elements such as the changes in emotion they would start to experience as they become a talented penalty taker. Emotion: Footballers are encouraged to add in the appropriate emotions they experience when going to take a penalty so they get used to these emotions and learn to relate them with success. Addition of related emotion will help increase the vividness of an image. Perspective: If the footballers view the technique of taking a penalty, they may perform the imagery from an external visual perspective. However they may prefer to use internal visual imagery when wanting to view the factors they will focus on when making their preparations for the penalty. As a result each footballer should consider which visual perspective is best and switch between the two.

Holmes and Collins (2001), “PETTLEP model” was said that there is evidence especially when mixing physical and environmental strategies in terms of conducting imagery on field (I.e. rehearsing imagery of kicking a football penalty on the field instead of imagining this while at home).
The SIQ questionnaire is an well-organized way of gaining knowledge about the athletes ability to conduct imagery. The next step would be to develop an efficient imagery intervention, that could develop the athlete’s ability.


Holmes and Collins, (2001), The PETTLEP Approach to Motor Imagery: A Functional Equivalence Model for Sport Psychologists, Journal of applied sport psychology, vol.13(1), p.60-81

Hall, C. R., & Martin, K. A. (1997). Measuring movement imagery abilities: A

revision of the movement imagery questionnaire. Journal of Mental

Imagery, 21, 143-154.

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Psychology (imagery usage). (2019, Mar 21). Retrieved from

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