Cognitive Processing

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 153–162 | Cite as

Individual differences in mental rotation: what does gesture tell us?

  • Tilbe Göksun
  • Susan Goldin-Meadow
  • Nora Newcombe
  • Thomas Shipley
Research Report

Abstract

Gestures are common when people convey spatial information, for example, when they give directions or describe motion in space. Here, we examine the gestures speakers produce when they explain how they solved mental rotation problems (Shepard and Meltzer in Science 171:701–703, 1971). We asked whether speakers gesture differently while describing their problems as a function of their spatial abilities. We found that low-spatial individuals (as assessed by a standard paper-and-pencil measure) gestured more to explain their solutions than high-spatial individuals. While this finding may seem surprising, finer-grained analyses showed that low-spatial participants used gestures more often than high-spatial participants to convey “static only” information but less often than high-spatial participants to convey dynamic information. Furthermore, the groups differed in the types of gestures used to convey static information: high-spatial individuals were more likely than low-spatial individuals to use gestures that captured the internal structure of the block forms. Our gesture findings thus suggest that encoding block structure may be as important as rotating the blocks in mental spatial transformation.

Keywords

Mental rotation Individual differences Gesture 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This research was supported in part by a grant to the Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center, funded by the National Science Foundation (grant numbers SBE-0541957 and SBE-1041707), and by NICHD R01 HD47450 and NSF BCS-0925595 (to SGM), and by a National Science Foundation Fostering Interdisciplinary Research on Education grant (DRL- 1138619). We would like to thank Shannon Fitzhugh, Dominique Dumay for their assistance in collecting data, Michelle Chery for reliability coding, and the RISC group at Temple University for their helpful comments in this research.

References

  1. Alibali MW (2005) Gesture in spatial cognition: expressing, communicating and thinking about spatial information. Spat Cogn Comput 5:307–331Google Scholar
  2. Alibali MW, Heath DC, Myers HJ (2001) Effects of visibility between speaker and listener on gesture production: some gestures are meant to be seen. J Mem Lang 44:169–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alibali MW, Spencer RC, Knox L, Kita S (2011) Spontaneous gestures influence strategy choices in problem solving. Psychol Sci 22:1138–1144PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Amorim M-L, Isableu B, Jarraya M (2006) Embodied spatial transformations: “Body analogy” for the mental rotation of objects. J Exp Psychol Gen 135:327–347PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barsalou LW (1999) Perceptual symbol systems. Behav Brain Sci 22:577–660PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Beilock SL, Goldin-Meadow S (2010) Gesture changes thought by grounding it in action. Psychol Sci 21:1605–1611PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beilock SL, Lyons IM, Mattarella-Micke A, Nusbaum HC, Small SL (2008) Sports experience changes the neural processing of action language. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA 105:13269–13273PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Casey MB, Nuttall R, Pezaris E, Benbow CP (1995) The influence of spatial ability on gender differences in mathematics college entrance test scores across diverse samples. Dev Psychol 31:697–705CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chu M, Kita S (2008) Spontaneous gestures during mental rotation tasks: insights into the microdevelopment of the motor strategy. J Exp Psychol Gen 137:706–723PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chu M, Kita S (2011) The nature of gestures’ beneficial role in spatial problem solving. J Exp Psychol Gen 140:102–116PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Church RB, Goldin-Meadow S (1986) The mismatch between gesture and speech as an index of transitional knowledge. Cognition 23:43–71PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Collins DW, Kimura D (1997) A large sex difference on a two- dimensional mental rotation task. Behav Neurosci 111:845–849PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cooper LA (1976) Demonstration of a mental analog of an external rotation. Percept Psychophys 19:296–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cooper LA, Shepard RN (1973) Chronometric studies of the rotation of mental images. In: Chase WG (ed) Visual information processing. Academic Press, New York, pp 75–176Google Scholar
  15. Ehrlich SB, Levine SC, Goldin-Meadow S (2006) The importance of gesture in children’s spatial reasoning. Dev Psychol 42:1259–1268Google Scholar
  16. Emmorey K, Casey S (2001) Gesture, thought and spatial language. Gesture 1:35–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Feyereisen P, Havard I (1999) Mental imagery and production of hand gestures while speaking in younger and older adults. J Nonverbal Behav 23:153–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Frick A, Daum MM, Walser S, Mast FW (2009) Motor processes in children’s mental rotation. J Cogn Dev 10:18–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Garber P, Goldin-Meadow S (2002) Gesture offers insight into problem solving in adults and children. Cogn Sci 26:817–831CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Geiser C, Lehmann W, Eid M (2006) Separating ‘Rotaters’ from ‘Non-Rotaters’ in the Mental Rotations Test: a multigroup latent class analysis. Multivar Behav Res 41:261–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Goldin-Meadow S (2003) Hearing gesture: how our hands help us think. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  22. Goldin-Meadow S, Beilock SL (2010) Action’s influence on thought: the case of gesture. Perspect Psychol Sci 5:664–674PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Goldin-Meadow S, Nusbaum H, Kelly SD, Wagner S (2001) Explaining math: gesturing lightens the load. Psychol Sci 12:516–522PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Goldin-Meadow S, Levine SL, Zinchenko E, Yip TK-Y, Hemani N, Factor L (in press) Doing gesture promotes learning a mental transformation task better than seeing gesture. Dev SciGoogle Scholar
  25. Hegarty M, Mayer S, Kriz S, Keehner M (2005) The role of gestures in mental animation. Spat Cogn Comput 5:333–335Google Scholar
  26. Hostetter AB, Alibali MW (2007) Raise your hand if you’re spatial: relations between verbal and spatial skills and gesture production. Gesture 7:73–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hostetter AB, Alibali MW, Bartholomew AE (2011) Gesture during mental rotation. In: Carlson L, Hoelscher C, Shipley TF (eds) Proceedings of the 33rd annual conference of cognitive science society. Cognitive Science Society, Austin, TX, pp 1448–1453Google Scholar
  28. Hyun J-S, Luck SJ (2007) Visual working memory as the substrate for mental rotation. Psychon Bull Rev 14:154–158PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jansen-Osmann P, Heil M (2007) Suitable stimuli to obtain (no) gender differences in the speed of cognitive processes involved in mental rotation. Brain Cogn 64:217–227PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Just MA, Carpenter PA, Maguire M, Diwadkar V, McMains S (2001) Mental rotation of objects retrieved from memory: a functional MRI study of spatial processing. J Exp Psychol Gen 130:493–504PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kosslyn SM, Margolis JA, Barrett AM, Goldknopf EJ, Daly PF (1990) Age differences in imagery abilities. Child Dev 61:995–1010PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lavergne J, Kimura D (1987) Hand movement asymmetry during speech: no effect of speaking topic. Neuropsychologia 25:689–693PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Perry M, Elder AD (1997) Knowledge in transition: adults’ developing understanding of a principle of physical causality. Cogn Dev 12:131–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Perry M, Church RB, Goldin-Meadow S (1988) Transitional knowledge in the acquisition of concepts. Cogn Dev 3:359–400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Peters M, Laeng B, Latham K, Jackson M, Zaiyouna R, Richardson C (1995) A Redrawn Vandeberg and Kuse Mental Rotations Test: different versions and factors that affect performance. Brain Cogn 28:39–58PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Peters M, Lehmann W, Takaira S, Takeuchi Y, Jordan K (2006) Mental rotation test performance in four cross-cultural samples (N = 3367): overall sex differences and the role of Academic Program in performance. Cortex 42:1005–1014PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Ping R, Goldin-Meadow S (2010) Gesturing saves cognitive resources when talking about nonpresent objects. Cogn Sci 34:602–619PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rauscher FB, Krauss RM, Chen Y (1996) Gesture, speech, and lexical access: the role of lexical movements in speech production. Psychol Sci 7:226–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sauter A, Uttal D, Alman AS, Goldin-Meadow S, Levine SC (2012) Learning what children know about space from looking at their hands: the added value of gesture in spatial communication. J Exp Child Psychol 111:587–606PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Schwartz DL, Black JB (1996) Shuttling between depictive models and abstract rules: induction and fallback. Cogn Sci 20:457–497CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Schwartz DL, Black T (1999) Inferences through imagined actions: knowing by simulated doing. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 25:116–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Schwartz DL, Holton DL (2000) Tool use and the effect of action on the imagination. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 26:1655–1665PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sekiyama K (1982) Kinesthetic aspects of mental representations in the identification of left and right hands. Percept Psychophys 32:89–95PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Shepard R, Cooper L (1982) Mental images and their transformations. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  45. Shepard RN, Metzler J (1971) Mental rotation of three-dimensional objects. Science 171:701–703PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Vandenberg SG, Kuse AR (1978) Mental rotations, a group test of three-dimensional spatial visualization. Percept Mot Skills 47:599–604PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Vanetti EJ, Allen GL (1988) Communicating environmental knowledge: the impact of verbal and spatial abilities on the production and comprehension of route directions. Environ Behav 20:667–682CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Wexler M, Kosslyn SM, Berthoz A (1998) Motor processes in mental rotation. Cognition 68:77–94PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Wilson M (2002) Six views of embodied cognition. Psychon Bull Rev 9:625–636PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Wohlschlager A, Wohlschlager A (1998) Mental and manual rotation. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 2:397–412Google Scholar
  51. Wright R, Thompson WL, Ganis G, Newcombe NS, Kosslyn SM (2008) Training generalized spatial skills. Psychon Bull Rev 15:763–771PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Xu L, Franconeri SL (in press) The head of the table: the location of the spotlight of attention may determine the ‘front’ of ambiguous objects. J NeurosciGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tilbe Göksun
    • 1
    • 2
  • Susan Goldin-Meadow
    • 3
  • Nora Newcombe
    • 1
  • Thomas Shipley
    • 1
  1. 1.Temple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of NeurologyThe University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.The University of ChicagoChicagoUSA

Personalised recommendations