Motor imagery in mental rotation: an fMRI study

Neuroimage. 2002 Nov;17(3):1623-33. doi: 10.1006/nimg.2002.1290.


Twelve right-handed men performed two mental rotation tasks and two control tasks while whole-head functional magnetic resonance imaging was applied. Mental rotation tasks implied the comparison of different sorts of stimulus pairs, viz. pictures of hands and pictures of tools, which were either identical or mirror images and which were rotated in the plane of the picture. Control tasks were equal except that stimuli pairs were not rotated. Reaction time profiles were consistent with those found in previous research. Imaging data replicate classic areas of activation in mental rotation for hands and tools (bilateral superior parietal lobule and visual extrastriate cortex) but show an important difference in premotor area activation: pairs of hands engender bilateral premotor activation while pairs of tools elicit only left premotor brain activation. The results suggest that participants imagined moving both their hands in the hand condition, while imagining manipulating objects with their hand of preference (right hand) in the tool condition. The covert actions of motor imagery appear to mimic the "natural way" in which a person would manipulate the object in reality, and the activation of cortical regions during mental rotation seems at least in part determined by an intrinsic process that depends on the afforded actions elicited by the kind of stimuli presented.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebellum / physiology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Depth Perception / physiology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Echo-Planar Imaging
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Problem Solving / physiology