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


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.


Mental rotation Individual differences Gesture 



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.


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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

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