There has been much research regarding modeling (also called observational learning) and mental practice, also -- and perhaps more commonly -- known as imagery. Mental practice is also known as mental rehearsal and visuo-motor rehearsal, although these terms are much less commonly used in the literature assessed here. The current research question is:
Does modeling, when combined with mental practice and physical practice, have a grater effect than the combination of mental practice and physical practice on the learning of a novel motor skill?
The literature accessed tends not to make much distinction between modeling and mental practice, and it tends also not to assess the addition of these factor as an intensifier per se of the physical learning of a motor skill, or at least, does not quantify the impact precisely. However, previous research into motor skills vis-a-vis modeling and mental practice does point the way to more definitive research regarding the extent to which these factors enhance the learning of novel motor skills.
Rosenbaum, D.A., Carlson, R.A., & Gilmore, R.O. (2001). Acquisition of Intellectual and Perceptual-Motor Skills.
Perhaps one of the most cogent contributions of these authors is the information that while perceptual-motor skills may have seemed, to most researchers, to be less creative than intellectual skills, recently, there has been a "richer appreciation" of the "endless novelty of physical action" (p. 453).
These authors also noted that a capacity for imagery is a hallmark of intellectual skill, and some would therefore discount it regarding acquisition of motor skills. However, they suggest that a certain amount of intellectual capacity would need to be present for modeling and mental practice to enhance motor skills acquisition. They cited Crammond (1997) and Jeannerod (1994) for developing the fact that imagery plays a role in perceptual motor skills.
Imagining one's own body movements, the found, excited many of the same brain areas as actual performance of those movements. They also found that when people were asked to imagine performing movements in time with a metronome, their pace corresponded with the pace they demonstrated when they performed the movements in real time.
Finally, these authors concluded that although intellectual and motor skills differ greatly in form of expression, the means of acquisition are similar, and are enhanced by modeling and mental practice. In fact, they go beyond that and suggest that all skills -- including intellectual -- are grounded in and supported by perceptual-motor activity; this would indicate not only that mental practice would enhance performance of motor skills, but that "intellectual achievements ... originate in interiorized action" (p. 453).
Short, S.E., Afremow, J., & Overby, L. (2001). Using Mental Imagery to Enhance Children's Motor Performance. JOPERD -- The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 72(2).
These authors define mental imagery as a process of "mentally recreating or creating an experience by using images and a variety of senses" (Kenitzer & Briddell, 1991, p. 5, quoted by Short, Afremow and Overby, 2001, p. 19). Whether or not using mental imagery can literally enhance learning of motor skills, many areas of motor skill performance have been found to be clearly enhanced by the use of imagery. Among these -- all of which can be construed to contribute to mastery of novel motor skills -- are self-efficacy, self-confidence, effort, motivation. In addition, imagery can also regulate arousal and anxiety.
Other interesting contributions from these authors include the information that mental images "may also be viewed from an external or an internal perspective. An external image involves an out-of-body perspective, as if observing oneself on film, while an internal image is perceived as if observing through one's own eyes" (p. 19). Conceivably, the choice of one or the other method would have a significant effect on leaning novel motor skills.
An additional valuable finding reported by these authors is that research by Weinberg, Seabourne & Jackson (1981) had shown that "imagery preceded by relaxation is more effective than using imagery alone" (quoted by Short, Afremow and Overby, 2110, p. 19).
Sherman, C.P. (1999). Integrating Mental Management Skills into the Physical Education Curriculum. JOPERD -- The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 70(5).
Sherman examined the use of fundamental mental management skills as a means to mediate learning and performing novel motor skills, among other things. He found that among the mental management skills that can mediate learning and performance are "goal-setting, focusing/refocusing, mental practice/imagery, relaxation/energizing, and self-talk (Sinclair & Sinclair, 1994; Vealey, 1988). Whether or not immediate acquisition of motor skills was enhance, he reported on work by Orlick & McCaffrey (1991) that found that "Children who learn to use mental management skills are more likely to rely on those skills later in life" (p. 25+). Sherman also reported research that found that this sort of 'holistic' instruction had more value than simply:
Teaching children motor skills, games, sports, and fitness activities. Furthermore, integrative instruction is built on the premise that combining mental skill instruction with physical instruction is not only a more practical and logical method of teaching children, but is also a proactive and preventative approach that could have positive carry-over effects throughout the students' lives (Sherman, 1999, p. 25+).
Onestak, D.M. (1997). The Effect of Visuo-Motor Behavior Rehearsal (VMBR) and Videotaped Modeling on the Free-Throw Performance of Intercollegiate Athletes. Journal of Sport Behavior, 20(2).
Onestak's research was much more targeted toward modeling and specific performance and so may be more useful for the current study. He noted that among means to develop athletic performance, mental practice had received the greatest empirical support. Interestingly, he also traced the development of the principles to work by W.B. Carpenter in 1i84; at that time, Carpenter postulated "the 'video motor principle'" a principle that suggested any idea in the mind would also be expressed in the muscles.
Since then, researchers have viewed mental practice as a means to:
(1) Learn new skills,
(2) Further improve one's skills after initial physical training,
(3) Rehearse before skilled performance,
(4) Formulate strategy,
(5) Focus attention,
(6) Reduce anxiety, and (7) Analyze the technical aspects of performance (Gilmore, 1973; Nideffer, 1976, cited by Onestak, 1997, p. 185+).
Jax, S.A., Rosenbaum, D.A., Vaughan, J., & Meulenbroek, R.G. (2003). Computational Motor Control and Human Factors: Modeling Movements in Real and Possible Environments. Human Factors, 45(1).
These authors reviewed issues that had arisen in the study of motor control, with particular emphasis on issues relating to human factors amenable to modeling. They, too, suggested that learning motor skills is not qualitatively different from other cognitive issues, which further suggests that studies into the use of mental imagery and modeling have uses for humans throughout life, and not just in the learning of specific novel motor skills.
Lohr, B.A., & Scogin, F. (1998). Effects of Self-Administered Visuo-Motor Behavioral Rehearsal on Sport Performance of Collegiate Athletes. Journal of Sport Behavior, 21(2).
The Lohr and Scogin study was based on specific novel skills in college athletes. These researchers found that Visuo-Motor Behavioral Rehearsal (VMBR) significantly enhanced performance on two separate tasks. In addition, "Examination of the group means showed an increase in anxiety for the control condition. Data showed that the training not only decreased precompetitive anxiety, but prevented an increase in anxiety, perhaps due to the progression of the athletic season into more important competition (e.g., SEC and NCAA events)" (p. 206+). The training involved had specifically used imagery skills but not in a way that caused it to be logically associated with "visualization such as sensory experiences and kinesthetic movements" (p. 206+).
Glisky, M.L., Williams, J.M., & Kihlstrom, J.F. (1996). Internal and External Mental Imagery Perspectives and Performance on Two Tasks. Journal of Sport Behavior, 19(1).
Glisky, Williams and Kihlstrom examined two variables that contribute to the value of mental practice: imagery perspective and type of task. Their concern was that, although the positive effects of mental practice had been well-documented it had been difficult to determine "which specific aspects of mental practice yield the greatest improvement in performance" (p. 3+). What these researchers attempted to accomplish was to add to the knowledge of the specific factors involved in the success of imagery.
Wilkinson, C., Pennington, T.R., & Padfield, G. (2000). Student Perceptions of Using Skills Software in Physical Education. JOPERD -- The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 71(6), 37.
Although the idea of imagery and modeling has been extant since the end of the 19th century, Wilkinson, Pennington and Padfield (2000) finally brought it into the current century. They accepted the usefulness of imaging/modeling a priori; what they wanted to discover was whether not the motor skills themselves but physical education skills software could have the same effect on student learning as does actual physical education.
These researchers set up an empirical experiment in which 33 female high school students participated in a volleyball unit of 16 days. They were shown video footage of highly skilled volleyball players performing specific volleyball skills. While there were negative student comments regarding the unit (mainly concerning decreased player-to-player or…