Mental rotation of objects versus hands: neural mechanisms revealed by positron emission tomography

Psychophysiology. 1998 Mar;35(2):151-61.


Twelve right-handed men participated in two mental rotation tasks as their regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) was monitored using positron emission tomography. In one task, participants mentally rotated and compared figures composed of angular branching forms; in the other task, participants mentally rotated and compared drawings of human hands. In both cases, rCBF was compared with a baseline condition that used identical stimuli and required the same comparison, but in which rotation was not required. Mental rotation of branching objects engendered activation in the parietal lobe and Area 19. In contrast, mental rotation of hands engendered activation in the precentral gyrus (M1), superior and inferior parietal lobes, primary visual cortex, insula, and frontal Areas 6 and 9. The results suggest that at least two different mechanisms can be used in mental rotation, one mechanism that recruits processes that prepare motor movements and another mechanism that does not.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hand / innervation*
  • Hand / physiology
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Male
  • Movement / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Rotation
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed