Body context and posture affect mental imagery of hands

PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e34382. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0034382. Epub 2012 Mar 30.


Different visual stimuli have been shown to recruit different mental imagery strategies. However the role of specific visual stimuli properties related to body context and posture in mental imagery is still under debate. Aiming to dissociate the behavioural correlates of mental processing of visual stimuli characterized by different body context, in the present study we investigated whether the mental rotation of stimuli showing either hands as attached to a body (hands-on-body) or not (hands-only), would be based on different mechanisms. We further examined the effects of postural changes on the mental rotation of both stimuli. Thirty healthy volunteers verbally judged the laterality of rotated hands-only and hands-on-body stimuli presented from the dorsum- or the palm-view, while positioning their hands on their knees (front postural condition) or behind their back (back postural condition). Mental rotation of hands-only, but not of hands-on-body, was modulated by the stimulus view and orientation. Additionally, only the hands-only stimuli were mentally rotated at different speeds according to the postural conditions. This indicates that different stimulus-related mechanisms are recruited in mental rotation by changing the bodily context in which a particular body part is presented. The present data suggest that, with respect to hands-only, mental rotation of hands-on-body is less dependent on biomechanical constraints and proprioceptive input. We interpret our results as evidence for preferential processing of visual- rather than kinesthetic-based mechanisms during mental transformation of hands-on-body and hands-only, respectively.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Hand / anatomy & histology
  • Humans
  • Imagination*
  • Photic Stimulation*
  • Posture*
  • Young Adult