What Does Physical Rotation Reveal About Mental Rotation?
Aaron L. Gardony, Holly A. Taylor, and Tad T. Brunyé
In a classic psychological science experiment, Shepard and Metzler (1971) discovered that the time participants took to judge whether two rotated abstract block figures were identical increased monotonically with the figures’ relative angular disparity. They posited that participants rotate mental images to achieve a match and that mental rotation recruits motor processes. This interpretation has become central in the literature, but until now, surprisingly few researchers have compared mental and physical rotation. We had participants rotate virtual Shepard and Metzler figures mentally and physically; response time, accuracy, and real-time rotation data were collected. Results suggest that mental and physical rotation processes overlap and also reveal novel conclusions about physical rotation that have implications for mental rotation. Notably, participants did not rotate figures to achieve a match, but rather until they reached an off-axis canonical difference, and rotational strategies markedly differed for judgments of whether the figures were the same or different.