Over the last 20 years, the topics of action observation (AO) and motor imagery (MI) have been largely studied in isolation from each other, despite the early integrative account by Jeannerod (1994, 2001). Recent neuroimaging studies demonstrate enhanced cortical activity when AO and MI are performed concurrently (“AO+MI”), compared to either AO or MI performed in isolation. These results indicate the potentially beneficial effects of AO+MI, and they also demonstrate that the underlying neurocognitive processes are partly shared. We separately review the evidence for MI and AO as forms of motor simulation, and present two quantitative literature analyses that indeed indicate rather little overlap between the two bodies of research. We then propose a spectrum of concurrent AO+MI states, from congruent AO+MI where the contents of AO and MI widely overlap, over coordinative AO+MI, where observed and imagined action are different but can be coordinated with each other, to cases of conflicting AO+MI. We believe that an integrative account of AO and MI is theoretically attractive, that it should generate novel experimental approaches, and that it can also stimulate a wide range of applications in sport, occupational therapy, and neurorehabilitation.
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