Cognitive Processing

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 117–127 | Cite as

Using a touch screen paradigm to assess the development of mental rotation between 3½ and 5½ years of age

  • Andrea Frick
  • Katrina Ferrara
  • Nora S. Newcombe
Research Report


Mental rotation is an important spatial skill. However, there is controversy concerning its early development and susceptibility to intervention. In the present study, we assessed individual differences in the mental rotation abilities of children between 3½ and 5½ years of age, using a touch screen paradigm to simplify task demands. A figure or its mirror image was presented in 8 different orientations, and children indicated in which of two holes the figure would fit by touching one of the holes on the screen. Task instructions were varied in three conditions, giving the children the opportunity to gather manual or observational experience with rotations of different stimuli, or giving no additional experience. Children’s error rates and response times increased linearly with increasing angular disparity between the figure and the hole by the age of 5 years, but 4-year-olds were found to respond at chance for all angular disparities, despite the use of a touch screen paradigm. Both manual and observational experience increased the response accuracy of 5-year-olds, especially for children already performing well. However, there was no effect on 4-year-olds. Results point to an emerging readiness to use mental rotation and profit from observational and manual experience at age 5.


Mental rotation Cognitive development Spatial cognition Preschool children Motor experience 



This research was supported by research grants from the Swiss National Science Foundation #PBZH1-117012 and from the US National Science Foundation #SBE-0541957.


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Copyright information

© Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrea Frick
    • 1
    • 2
  • Katrina Ferrara
    • 1
    • 3
  • Nora S. Newcombe
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of BernBern 9Switzerland
  3. 3.Department of Cognitive ScienceJohns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA

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