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Rotations

Test type: Concentration

When you read a map, do you find yourself rotating the page? Or are you just as comfortable when the world is turned upside down? Try this test to find out.

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Go left! No, your other left!

We all find it easier to turn a map so that it matches our direction of travel, even though the map itself (and the words on it) may end up upside down as a result! If you don't do this, as you try to imagine how the map (or any object) would look rotated away from its original presentation, you are exercising 'mental imagery'. That imaginary movement in your brain is called 'mental rotation'. Shepard & Metzler (1971), who were the first to introduce mental rotation tasks into the psychology litrature, went some way to help explain the cognitive processing behind this abiliy. Participants were presented with pairs of geometrical line drawings and had to identify whether they were the same (rotated versions) or different images. Response times were found to increase (almost) in direct proportion to the angle the image was rotated. This suggests that we perform these tasks using an anologue rotation strategy; that is, the mental image of the object is created and rotated logically in our imaginations (just as it would be in the outside world) to see whether or not it corresponds with another (test) image.

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Mental rotation abilities are linked to performance in perspective taking and navigation. In particular, mental rotation skills have been found to significantly correlate with route learning; Individuals who perform better at mental rotation tasks are more able to find the most direct route out of a wooded terrain (Silverman 2000). Further evidence for this link comes from those suffering from Parkinson's disease, who are impaired at mental rotation tasks. These patients are also less able to learn new routes during driving tasks and make many more navigation errors than healthy volunteers (Ergun et al 2007).

References
-Ergun,Y., Rizzo,M., Anderson,S., Sparks,J.D., Rodnitzky,R.L., Dawson,J.D.(2007). Impaired navigation in drivers with Parkinson’s disease. Brain 130: 2433-2440. Download PDF
-Shepard, R.N. & Metzler, J.(1971) Mental rotation of three-dimensional objects, Science 171:701–703.
-Silverman,I., Choi,J., Mackewn.A., Fisher,M., Moro,J., Olshansky,E. (2000). Evolved mechanisms underlying wayfinding: further studies on the hunter-gatherer theory of spatial sex differences. Evolution and Human Behavior 21: 201-213

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