Spatial transformation in mental rotation tasks in aphantasia

Binglei Zhao*, Sergio Della Sala, Adam Zeman, Elena Gherri

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aphantasia refers to the inability to summon images to one’s own mind’s eye, resulting in selective deficits of voluntary object imagery. In the present study, we investigated whether M. X., a case of acquired aphantasia, can still retain some form of spatial transformation processes even though he is unable to subjectively experience voluntary object imagery. M. X. and a group of control participants were asked to complete a letter mental rotation task (MRT), typically used to assess the nature of the spatial transformation, while behavioural and electrophysiological responses were recorded. M. X. was able to complete the MRTs as accurately as controls, showing the pattern of increasing RTs as a function of rotation angle typical of MRTs. However, event-related potentials (ERP) results showed systematic differences between M. X. and controls. On canonical letter trials, the rotation-related negativity (RRN), an ERP component considered as the psychophysiological correlate of the spatial transformation of mental rotation (MR), was present in both M. X. and controls and similarly modulated by rotation angle. However, no such modulation was observed for M. X. on mirror-reversed letter trials. These findings suggest that, at least under specific experimental conditions, the inability to create a depictive representation of the stimuli does not prevent the engagement of spatial transformation in aphantasia. However, the ability to apply spatial transformation varies with tasks and might be accounted for by the specific type of mental representation that can be accessed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin & Review
Early online date9 Jun 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Jun 2022


  • aphantasia
  • spatial transformation
  • mental rotation tasks
  • rotation related negativity


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