Non-identical neural mechanisms for two types of mental transformation

Event-related potentials during mental rotation and mental paper folding

B. Milivojevic, B. W. Johnson*, J. P. Hamm, M. C. Corballis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

40 Citations (Scopus)


Reaction times, accuracy and 128-channel event-related potentials (ERPs) were measured from 14 normal, right-handed subjects while they performed two different parity-judgment tasks that require transformations of mental images: a relatively simple task requiring a single transformation (mental letter rotation), and a more complex task involving a coordinated sequence of transformations (mental paper folding). Reaction times increased monotonically with larger angular displacements from the upright (for mental rotation) and with number of squares carried (for mental paper folding). Both the tasks resulted in amplitude modulation of an approximately 420-700ms latency ERP component at parietal electrodes. Scalp topographies indicated that right parietal cortex was activated during mental rotation, but bilateral parietal regions were activated during mental paper folding. Our results support the notion of a right hemispheric superiority for tasks involving simple, single mental rotations, but indicate greater involvement of the left hemisphere when a more complex sequence of transformations are required. This task-dependent lability of hemispheric function may account for some of the inconsistent results reported by previous neuroimaging and electrophysiological studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1345-1356
Number of pages12
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes

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