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Imagination in Action: Mental Practice and Skilled Performance in Sport and Surgery (BPS/TCD/PSI lecture, 6 June 2012)

One of our most remarkable cognitive capacities is imagination or the ability to simulate sensations, actions and other types of experience. For over a century, psychologists have explored imagination in action by studying “mental practice” or people’s use of mental imagery to rehearse skills symbolically, without engaging in the actual physical movements involved. A key finding from this research is that mental practice can enhance the learning and performance of both cognitive and motor skills. Based on this discovery, many of the world’s leading athletes now use mental imagery techniques to prepare for, and to improve their performance in, competitive sport situations. But what exactly is mental practice? How does it work? And how can we make it work best for us in everyday life? The purpose of this lecture is to answer these and other relevant questions. Drawing upon his own research, and using the latest findings from imagery studies in sport psychology and cognitive neuroscience, Prof Moran explains the theory and practice of using one’s imagination to improve one’s performance in fields ranging from sport to medical surgery.

Professor Aidan Moran (School of Psychology, UCD)

Aidan Moran is Professor of Cognitive Psychology and Director of the Psychology Research Laboratory in University College, Dublin. He and his research team explore cognition in action – especially the motor imagery and attentional (via eye-tracking) processes underlying expertise in athletic performance. A Fulbright Scholar, he has written/co-authored 15 books (as well as 3 audiobooks/CDs) and has published many scientific papers in various high-impact, international journals in psychology, medicine and sport science. He is the inaugural Editor-in-Chief of the International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology (IRSEP; Taylor and Francis, Oxford). A full list of his publications is available at
Applying his research to enhance skilled performance in fields such as sport and medical surgery, Aidan has advised many of Ireland’s leading professional athletes (e.g., golfer Pádraig Harrington) and teams (e.g., the Irish rugby team) and is a former psychologist to the Irish Olympic Squad. He is an experienced radio and television broadcaster in Psychology and is a regular speaker at academic conferences and corporate events in Ireland and abroad. His two most recent books are Pure Sport 2: Practical Sport Psychology (co-authored with John Kremer; published by Routledge, 2012) and Sport and Exercise Psychology: A Critical Introduction (2nd ed)(also published by Routledge, 2012).

March 2012