Cognitive Processing

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 105–115 | Cite as

Understanding spatial transformations: similarities and differences between mental rotation and mental folding

  • Justin Harris
  • Kathy Hirsh-Pasek
  • Nora S. Newcombe


Mental rotation and mental folding, two widely used measures of spatial ability, both require the dynamic spatial transformation of objects with respect to their internal spatial structure. Traditionally, however, these two skills have been considered quite distinct, based primarily on factor analyses of psychometric data. This paper reviews the similarities and differences between mental rotation and mental folding from a variety of perspectives, including their definitions, component cognitive processes, neurological bases, developmental trajectories, malleability, predictive validity, and psychometric properties. We conclude that mental rotation and mental folding are similar in many respects. However, the tasks differ in whether they require rigid or non-rigid transformations of objects. In addition, mental rotation shows robust sex-related differences whereas mental folding does not. We also identify specific questions for which research is lacking.


Mental rotation Mental folding Cognitive science 



Support was provided by grants to the Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center (SILC) from the National Science Foundation, SBE-0541957 and SBE-1041707.


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Copyright information

© Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Justin Harris
    • 1
    • 2
  • Kathy Hirsh-Pasek
    • 1
  • Nora S. Newcombe
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Museum of ScienceBostonUSA

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