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Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Carol Lawton & Professor Andres Montenegro


Department of Psychology and Department of Visual Communication and Design


Mental rotation is the ability to use a mental representation to rotate a two or three-dimensional object in the human mind while also recognizing that it is the same from any perspective. Previous studies have shown gender differences in mental rotation, with men performing mental rotations more quickly and accurately than women. Another study has shown that rotation practice using a joystick to rotate a figure on a computer screen benefits subsequent mental rotation. The purpose of our research was to examine whether mental rotation could be trained, specifically by using an iPad app we developed. In the current study, introductory psychology students were given a mental rotation pretest in which they viewed two geometric figures side by side and were asked if they were the same figures in different rotations, or two completely different figures. In the control group, participants completed additional trials identical to those in the pretest. In the experimental group, participants were asked to rotate a figure presented on the iPad with their finger until it matched the same orientation as the figure shown on the computer. The figure on the iPad started at different orientations than the figure on the computer (i.e., rotated 30 degrees along the x-axis, 90 degrees along the Y-axis). Finally, participants in both groups completed a posttest similar to the pretest, but including both familiar and unfamiliar figures. We found that males were more accurate at rotating the figures in the pretest and posttest, replicating findings from previous studies. However, the iPad training did not improve mental rotation in the posttest in either females or males. Based on these findings, we conclude that our app does not engage people in thinking about mental representations of the figures and rotating them in their head. In a future project, we plan to examine whether mental rotation can be improved by training participants to attend to the specific axes around which the object is rotating. We believe this method will be more effective in engaging participants in the mental rotation of a three dimensional object.


Art and Design | Psychology

Virtual Object Perception