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Imagination Is Not Just a Metaphor

#imagination #mindset Apr 06, 2018

In the midst of researching the power of the imagination I stumbled upon a study carried out at Harvard Medical School. 

The Harvard researchers under Neuroscientist Alvaro Pascual-Leone instructed the members of one group of volunteers who had never played the piano before to play as fluidly as they could, trying to keep to the metronome’s 60 beats per minute. Every day for five days, the volunteers practised for two hours. Then they took a test.

The transcranial-magnetic-stimulation (TMS) test allows scientists to assess the functions of a specific area of neurons. In the piano players, the TMS mapped how much the motor cortex controlled the finger movements needed for the piano exercise. What the scientists found was that after a week of practise. the stretch of motor cortex devoted to these finger movements had spread like naturalised plants onto surrounding areas.

Then Pascual-Leone extended the experiment by having another group of volunteers merely think about practising the piano exercise. They played the simple piece of music in their head, holding their hands still while imagining how they would move their fingers. Then they too underwent the TMS test.

When the scientists compared the TMS data on the two groups – those who physically played the pianos and those who only imagined doing so – they saw evidence of the ability of mere thought to alter the physical structure and function of our brains. For what the TMS revealed was that the region of motor cortex that controls the piano-playing fingers also expanded in volunteers who imagined playing the music – just as it had in those who actually played it.


It seems that changes in brain structure are incontrovertibly linked to our thoughts and feelings, as Pascual-Leone stated, “Mental practise resulted in a similar reorganisation of the brain.” 

The researchers concluded that apparently "The power of imagination is not a metaphor. It is real, and has a physical basis in your brain."

 If his results hold for other forms of movement (and there are other studies to support the validity of this), then mentally practising a movement, a golf swing or a swim turn could lead to mastery with less physical practise. Even more profound, the discovery showed that mental training had the power to change the physical structure of the brain.

The Imaginators Programme explores ways of using The Practical Application of Imagination

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