Complexity and familiarity enhance single-trial detectability of imagined movements with electroencephalography

Raechelle M Gibson, Srivas Chennu, Adrian M Owen, Damian Cruse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECTIVE: We sought to determine whether the sensorimotor rhythms (SMR) elicited during motor imagery (MI) of complex and familiar actions could be more reliably detected with electroencephalography (EEG), and subsequently classified on a single-trial basis, than those elicited during relatively simpler imagined actions.

METHODS: Groups of healthy volunteers, including experienced pianists and ice hockey players, performed MI of varying complexity and familiarity. Their electroencephalograms were recorded and compared using brain-computer interface (BCI) approaches and spectral analyses.

RESULTS: Relative to simple MI, significantly more participants produced classifiable SMR for complex MI. During MI of performance of a complex musical piece, the EEG of the experienced pianists was classified significantly more accurately than during MI of performance of a simpler musical piece. The accuracy of EEG classification was also significantly more sustained during complex MI.

CONCLUSION: MI of complex actions results in EEG responses that are more reliably classified for more individuals than MI of relatively simpler actions, and familiarity with actions enhances these responses in some cases.

SIGNIFICANCE: The accuracy of SMR-based BCIs in non-communicative patients may be improved by employing familiar and complex actions. Increased sensitivity to MI may also improve diagnostic accuracy for severely brain-injured patients in a vegetative state.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1556-1567
Number of pages12
JournalClinical Neurophysiology
Issue number8
Early online date13 Dec 2013
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014


  • Adult
  • Brain-Computer Interfaces
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagery (Psychotherapy)
  • Imagination
  • Male
  • Movement
  • Music
  • Recognition (Psychology)
  • Sports
  • Young Adult
  • Motor imagery
  • Sensorimotor rhythm
  • Movement complexity
  • Vegetative state


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