Age effects in mental rotation are due to the use of a different strategy

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Older participants are slower than younger individuals in rotating objects in their minds. One possible explanation for this effect of age in mental rotation (MR) relies on the different strategies used to perform the task. The present study aimed at exploring whether this account could explain the age-associated slowing in MR with unfamiliar objects. Younger and older participants were assessed with two MR tasks with three- (Exp.1) and two-dimensional objects (Exp.2). In both experiments, these objects were characterised by different complexity levels (simple integrated objects vs. complex multi-part objects). In processing simple objects, the performance of the two age groups was comparable. However, systematic differences were observed between the mental rotation rates of younger and older adults while processing complex objects. Younger participants were faster in processing complex than simple objects, whereas older participants were slower in rotating complex as compared to simple objects. These results revealed that different mental rotation strategies were selected by the two age groups when rotating complex objects. A simplified representation of the objects was generated and transformed by younger participants in their mind’s eyes, while a piecemeal transformation strategy was adopted by older participants.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)471-488
JournalAging, Neuropsychology and Cognition
Issue number3
Early online date2 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • mental rotation
  • strategy selection
  • aging
  • unfamiliar objects


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