Memory & Cognition

, Volume 41, Issue 4, pp 558-570

First online:

On the relation between spontaneous perspective taking and other visuospatial processes

  • Jan ZwickelAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Ludwig Maximilian University Munich Email author 
  • , Hermann J. MüllerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Ludwig Maximilian University Munich


Common processes and representations engaged by visuospatial tasks were investigated by looking at four frequently used visuospatial research paradigms, the aim being to contribute to a better understanding of which specific processes are addressed in the different paradigms compared. In particular, the relation between spontaneous and instructed perspective taking, as well as mental rotation of body-part/non-body-part objects, was investigated. To this end, participants watched animations that have been shown to lead to spontaneous perspective taking. While they were watching these animations, participants were asked to explicitly adopt another perspective (Experiment 1), perform a mental object rotation task that involved a non-body-part object (Experiment 2), or perform a mental rotation of a body-part object (Experiment 3). Patterns of interference between the tasks, reflected in the reaction time patterns, showed that spontaneous and instructed perspective taking rely on similar representational elements to encode orientation. By contrast, no such overlap was found between spontaneous perspective taking and the rotation of non-body-part objects. Also, no overlap in orientation representation was evident with mental body-part rotations. Instead of an overlap in orientation representations, the results suggest that spontaneous perspective taking and the mental rotation of body parts rely on similar—presumably, motor—processes. These findings support the view that motor processes are involved in perspective taking and mental rotation of body parts.


Embodied cognition Social cognition Mental models