Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Mental Rotation Task

A mental rotation task is an experimental technique that has been used to support the depictive theory of imagery proposed by Kosslyn (Kosslyn, 1980, 1994; Kosslyn, Thompson & Ganis, 2006). In a mental rotation task, subjects are usually presented with two images (e.g. drawings of three-dimensioanl figures) and asked to say whether the two images are of the same object or not. The independent variable in the task is the angular disparity between the two images -- one of the images has to be rotated into correspondence with the other in order for subjects to make the judgement. The standard finding is that there is a linear relationship between the reaction time for making the judgement and the angular disparity between the images (Shepard & Cooper, 1982; Shepard & Metzler, 1971).


  1. Kosslyn, S. M. (1980). Image and Mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  2. Kosslyn, S. M. (1994). Image and Brain. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  3. Kosslyn, S. M., Thompson, W. L., & Ganis, G. (2006). The Case For Mental Imagery. New York: Oxford University Press.
  4. Shepard, R. N., & Cooper, L. A. (1982). Mental Images and Their Transformations. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  5. Shepard, R. N., & Metzler, J. (1971). Mental rotation of three-dimensional objects. Science, 171(3972), 701-703.

(Added September 2010)