Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Object- and Direction-Specific Interference between Manual and Mental Rotation

Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Object- and Direction-Specific Interference between Manual and Mental Rotation

Article excerpt

We conducted a series of psychophysical experiments to investigate the nature and specificity of behavioral interference between mental and manual rotation. Participants were asked to mentally rotate five different types of visual stimuli-hands, faces, tools, cubes, and natural objects-either clockwise or counterclockwise while they simultaneously manually rotated a wheel in the concordant or discordant direction. Our study clearly revealed object-specific interference between manual and mental rotation. In comparison with a neutral baseline condition without any manual rotation, both manual rotation directions generally unpaired the mental rotation of cubes. In contrast, the mental rotation of hands was impaired only by discordant manual rotation. This object- and direction-specific interference between manual and mental rotation proved to be independent of task difficulty. We furthermore found an angular distance effect across different stimulus types.

The processes of visual imagery-generating, examining, and manipulating visual mental images (Palmer, 1999; Richardson, 1999)-are in many ways parallel to those of visual perception. Striking similarities have been reported not only in subjective accounts, but also in performance measures and brain activation patterns (Kosslyn & Thompson, 2003). The understanding of visual imagery has important implications for theories of conscious experience. For the cognitive psychologist, visual imagery is of interest mainly because it plays a crucial role in several core cognitive abilities, such as memory (Goldstein, 2002), high-level vision (Kosslyn, 1994; Tarr, 1999), and object recognition (Riesenhuber & Poggio, 2000). Visual imagery also supports the identification of the shortest route between two locations in spatial orientation (Goldstein, 2002) and is instrumental in abstract reasoning, skill learning, and language comprehension (Kosslyn, Behrmann, & Jeannerod, 1995).

The quality of visual imagery has been debated since the very beginnings of scientific psychology; at issue specifically is whetiier visual imagery is based on an abstract code that can also be found in language (Anderson & Bower, 1973; Pylyshyn, 1973) or on a picture-like representation (James, 1890; Kosslyn, 1980, 1994; Paivio, 1971). An important contribution to this debate has come from the investigation of spatial manipulations of imagined objects. Objects in mental imagery can be manipulated much like actual objects, and potential interactions between physical and mental manipulations (Kosslyn, Digirolamo, Thompson, & Alpert, 1998) might help resolve these theoretical issues. According to Kosslyn (1994), image transformations are not accomplished by a single process, but rather by two types of image transformations. The so-called motion-encoded transformations occur when one activates a representation of an object tiiat was encoded during movement, producing a moving image, whereas motion-added transformations occur when an imagined stationary object is caused to move by the imagery process in a novel way.

Image transformation processes have most widely been investigated using mental rotation paradigms. Mental rotation refers to the ability to imagine objects' changing their orientations in 3-D space. The classical task of visual mental rotation was described by Shepard and Metzler in 1971. In their task, pairs of geometrical figures (3-D objects made out of cubes) were presented to die subjects. In these pairs, one object either was identical to die second or was its mirror image but was rotated at a certain angle. When subjects had to compare these two geometrical figures and judge whether the second object was identical to or the mirror image of the first, their reaction times (RTs) increased linearly as die degree of rotation increased. Subjects reported that they imagined mentally rotating the figure and maintaining in-between positions of the rotated object while comparing it with the target sample. …

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