What is mental self rotation? It is the ability to imagine yourself in different locations in space and imagine your body moving in space. This is an ability that is used in different everyday activities such as navigating in an environment or reading a map.
- Ability involved: egocentric spatial transformations (yes, that is the scientific expression) or mental self rotation.
- Brain areas involved: mostly parietal lobes.
Let’s take an example. Imagine that you plan to go to a new Walgreens location. You wonder whether going North on Big Bend Avenue you would have to make a right or a left turn onto Forsyth Blvd to get to Walgreens. You then look at the map that your spouse has laid out on the table. It turns out that the map is upside down so your perspective is not aligned with the one shown on the map (see Figure 1 just below, Box A). How do you get the answer to your question?
— Figure 1. The map is upside down (A). The red dot represents your car’s position. Your goal is to go to Walgreens (W). You can either perform an object rotation (B), that is imagine the map rotating, or a self rotation ©, that is imagine yourself at the red dot location.
To align your perspective with the one showed on the map you could imagine the map rotating until it is upright. This is shown at the top right corner of Figure 1 above (Box B). This is what psychologists call mental rotation of object. Another solution is to imagine viewing the map from the other side of the table. This is shown at the bottom right corner of Figure 1 above (Box C). Once you have imagined yourself on the other side of the table you can use your body coordinates and determine that you will have to take a left on Forsyth. In that case, the map is not moving but you are moving. This is what psychologists call mental self rotation.
Ready to imagine yourself moving in space?
For each map below count how many left and right turns you have to make to go from the circle to the triangle. Follow the arrows. Do not move your body or your hands, try to do everything mentally.
Map 1: 3 left runs and 3 right turns
Map 2: 3 left runs and 3 right turns
Map 3: 6 left runs and 4 right turns
— This article was written by Pascale Michelon, Ph. D., for SharpBrains.com. Dr. Michelon, Copyright 2008. Dr. Michelon has a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology and has worked as a Research Scientist at Washington University in Saint Louis, in the Psychology Department. She conducted several research projects to understand how the brain makes use of visual information and memorizes facts.
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