Tuesday, 24 September 2013

JUST PUBLISHED: Your Mind is Always Spinning!

When you see a spoon upside down you do not need to mentally rotate it back to the right way up to know it is a spoon… do you? It is more likely you remember instances when you saw a spoon upside-down and know it is still a spoon. When you see unfamiliar objects upside-down (like my face) you need to return that object to the correct orientation to know whether or not it is the same object, or slightly different.

When we practice mentally manipulating objects in our environment we often see a marked improvement in our ability, we are faster and more accurate. This could be due to increased exposure to those familiar objects or improvement in our ability to mentally manipulate those objects.

In an attempt to describe these two forms of mastery, we (Provost, Johnson, Karayanidis, Brown & Heathcote, 2013) investigated the brain activity of people before and after training in a mental rotation task. When you rotate objects in your mind your brain activity changes and when you rotate an object more this mental rotation related activity increases.

When you have a small number of objects to spatially manipulate, people no longer rotate stimuli in their mind; instead they remember the different orientations of the objects. However, when there is a large number of objects, because it is not possible to remember all of them, improvement come from more efficient spatial cognition characterized by mental rotation related brain activity!

For more information, please see the following journal article:

Provost, A., Johnson, B., Karayanidis, F., Brown, S. D., & Heathcote, A. (2013). Two Routes to Expertise in Mental Rotation Cognitive Science, 37 (7), 1321-1342