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Brain teaser to exercise your mental rotation cognitive abilities

Men­tal self-rota­tion is the cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty to imag­ine your­self in dif­fer­ent loca­tions in space, and to imag­ine your body mov­ing in space. We need it for every­day activ­i­ties such as find­ing a place or read­ing a map. The abil­i­ty involved is tech­ni­cal­ly called ego­cen­tric spa­tial trans­for­ma­tions (yes, that is the sci­en­tif­ic expres­sion) or men­tal self rota­tion, and the brain areas pri­mar­i­ly involved are the pari­etal lobes.

Here’s an exam­ple.

mental rotation brain teaser

— Fig­ures above: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, as in box C, by imag­in­ing your­self at the red dot loca­tion.

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 above, Box A). How do you get the answer to your ques­tion?

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 Box B above. 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 with 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.

brain teasers

mind games mental rotation

mind teasers mental rotation


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

Pascale Michelon— Pas­cale Mich­e­lon, PhD is a sci­en­tist, edu­ca­tor, and con­tribut­ing author to “The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness: How to Opti­mize Brain Health and Per­for­mance at Any Age” (April 2013; 284 pages).

For more, check out our Brain Teasers sec­tion, full of fun mind teasers and brain twisters for kids, teens and adults.

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