Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Passive Tactile Feedback Facilitates Mental Rotation of Handheld Objects

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Passive Tactile Feedback Facilitates Mental Rotation of Handheld Objects

Article excerpt

Mental rotation of objects improves when passive tactile information for the rotating object accompanies the imagined rotation (Wraga, Creem, & Proffitt, 2000). We examined this phenomenon further using a within-subjects paradigm involving handheld objects. In Experiment 1, participants imagined rotating an unseen object placed on their upturned palms. The participants were faster at mental rotation when the object was rotated on their palm than when the object remained stationary. Experiment 2 tested whether the performance advantage would endure when the participants received tactile information for only the start- and endpoints of the rotation event. This manipulation did not improve performance, relative to a stationary control. Experiment 3 revealed that ambiguous tactile information, continuous with the rotation event but independent of object shape, actually degraded performance, relative to a stationary control. In Experiment 4, we found that continuous tactile rotation discrepant from imagined object movement also hindered performance, as compared with continuous tactile information aligned with imagined object movement The findings suggest a tight coupling between tactile information specifying continuous object rotation and the corresponding internal representation of the rotating object.

The ability to mentally rotate objects is essential to a variety of human spatial reasoning tasks, from planning how to pack the trunk of a car to solving geometry problems. The classic self-congruence paradigm of Shepard and Metzler (1971), in which participants viewed a misaligned pair of objects and decided whether they were identical, established that people could perform mental transformations of objects. Shepard and Metzler's study also revealed an important parallel between imagined and real-world transformations of objects: The amount of time it took participants to perform the self-congruence task increased monotonically with the angular disparity between objects. This finding suggests that individuals mentally rotate objects in the same manner in which they physically rotate objects, despite the fact that mental space need not adhere to the laws of physics. Subsequent studies have replicated the monotonie response time (RT) function with a variety of stimuli, including alphanumeric characters (e.g., Corballis & McMaster, 1996; Jolicur & Cavanagh, 1992) and depictions of body parts, such as the hands and feet (e.g., Kosslyn, DiGirolamo, Thompson, & Alpert, 1998; Parsons, 1987).

One interesting subclass of the mental rotation paradigm involves tactile discriminations, in which participants update the orientation of an unseen object actively felt by the hand. Many of these tasks have produced monotonie RT functions similar to those produced during mental rotation of visual stimuli (e.g., Carpenter & Eisenberg, 1978; Dellantonio & Spagnolo, 1990; Marmor & Zaback, 1976; Robert & Chevrier, 2003); they commonly are referred to as tactile mental rotation tasks (e.g., Prather & Sathian, 2002). For example, Carpenter and Eisenberg tested both sighted and blind participants on a tactile mental rotation task in which they had to decide whether letters explored actively with the hand were normal or mirror reversed. The time it took the participants to make the normal/mirror-reversed discrimination was monotonically related to the initial orientation of the letter with respect to its canonical upright. Dellantonio and Spagnolo obtained similar results in sighted individuals who made normal/mirror-reversed discriminations while actively exploring abstract pin configurations with their hands. A more recent study by Robert and Chewier demonstrated that participants who actively explored more complex, 3-D objects such as those originally created by Shepard and Metzler (1971) also could perform tactile mental rotation, albeit at an overall cost to RTs larger than that for simpler shapes. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.