Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Exercise Science


The Norman J. Arnold School of Public Health

First Advisor

Roger D. Newman-Norlund


Research supports the idea that action observation (AO)-based training can be an effective component of physical training and rehabilitation. While much is known about the benefits of AO for simple movements, less is known about the utility of AO-based training for complex, whole-body sequences of movements. Additionally, positive motor performance and neurophysiological findings are associated with anodal-transcranial direct current stimulation (A-tDCS). Therefore, it may be valuable to investigate the combination of these two approaches to further enhance motor learning. It is unknown how this combination, utilizing an alternative electrode arrangement of t-DCS (bihemispheric anodal corticomotor tDCS [BAC-tDCS]), would affect learning of a complex, whole-body task.

The first aim of this dissertation was to assess the replicability/reliability of dance sequence performance scoring using the X-box One KinectTM game Dance Central Spotlight. In Study 1, test-retest reliability was assessed as participants completed three thirty-second trials of repetitive arm flapping in synchrony with a metronome. The results revealed a good to excellent degree of test-retest reliability demonstrating that Dance Central Spotlight could be used as a primary measurement tool for future studies to obtain reliable measures for complex, whole-body motor tasks such as dance.

The purpose of the second study was to determine whether AO prior to action execution would improve an individual’s performance on a complex, whole-body task (i.e., dance). In Study 2, participants observed one dance before performing both dances (DANCEA and DANCEB) in a post-test. Participants returned after a washout period (M = 5.40 weeks, SD = 1.42) to observe the opposite dance and complete another post-test. Performance scores were significantly better when individuals had viewed the dance sequence prior to execution compared to when they had not observed the sequence prior to execution. This outcome was observed for DANCEA, which was perceived to be more difficult, but not for DANCEB.

The third aim was to examine the relationship between motor learning and a combined non-invasive brain stimulation/AO-based intervention with a complex, whole-body motor skill. Additionally, this study attempted to test the hypothesis that prior physical activity, as assessed by the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ), alters the modulatory effects of this combined treatment. In a counterbalanced, cross-over design, participants received either BAC-tDCS or sham during observation of a chosen dance. After a washout period (M = 5.09 weeks, SD = 1.72), participants received the opposite intervention during observation of the dance. Participants performed the dance for Immediate and 1 Week Post-tests. Performance scores were better at 1 Week Post-test than Immediate Post-test, but performance scores did not differ between AO/BAC-tDCS and AO/Sham. There was a moderate, positive correlation between physical activity and overall improvement in dance performance scores after AO/Sham but not AO/BAC-tDCS. An interaction effect was seen between time (Immediate Post-test and 1 Week Post-test) and order in which participants received the intervention (AO/BAC-tDCS and AO/Sham).

This investigation indicated that AO may be able to improve learning of a relatively difficult complex, whole-body sequence of movements. Furthermore, it is feasible to combine an AO-based learning intervention with BAC-tDCS, but further research must be done to assess the effectiveness as an order or learning effect may have clouded these results. Lastly, prior physical activity levels should be considered in individuals as it is unclear how one’s history of physical activity may affect their rate of motor learning.