How do infants learn to mentally rotate objects, to imagine them rotating through different viewpoints? One possibility is that development of infants’ mental rotation (MR) is facilitated by visual and manual experience with complex objects. To evaluate this possibility, eighty 4-month-olds (40 females, 40 males) participated in an object exploration task with Velcro “sticky mittens” that allow infants too young to grasp objects themselves to nonetheless explore those objects manually as well as visually. These eighty infants also participated in a visual habituation task designed to test MR. Half the infants (Mittens First group) explored the object prior to the MR task, and the other half afterwards (Mittens Second group), to examine the role of immediate prior object experience on MR performance. We compared performance of male and female infants, but found little evidence for sex differences. However, we found an important effect of object exploration: The infants in the Mittens First group who exhibited the highest levels of spontaneous object engagement showed the strongest evidence of MR, but there were no consistent correlations between these measures for infants in the Mittens Second group. These findings suggest an important contribution from object experience to development of MR.
Slone, L. K., Moore, D. S., & Johnson, S. P. (2018). Object exploration facilitates 4-month-olds’ mental rotation performance. PLoS ONE, 13(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0200468