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Even there seemed to be general knowledge that physical activity enhanced spatial cognitive performance almost none experimental studies on this influence exist. For that the influence of physical activity on mental rotation performance is investigated in this study. Mental rotation is the ability to imagine how an object would look if rotated away from the original orientation. Two groups of 44 students of educational science each solved a psychometrical mental rotation task with three-dimensional block figures. After this, the participants of the physical activity group took part in a sport lesson, whereas the participants of the cognitive activity group attended an oral lesson of kinematics. Both lessons took 45 minutes. Thereafter, all participants solved the mental rotation task again. The results showed that the participants of the physical activity group improved their mental rotation performance whereas the participants of the cognitive activity showed no improvement.
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Creative Education, 2010, 1, 58-61
doi:10.4236/ce.2010.11009 Published Online June 2010 (
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
Physical Activity Improves Mental Rotation
Petra Jansen, Stefanie Pietsch
Institute of Sport Science, University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany.
Email: petra.jansen@psk,
Received December 23
, 2009; revised February 28
, 2010; accepted April 1
, 2010.
Even there seemed to be general knowledge that physical activity enhanced spatial cognitive performance almost none
experimental studies on this influence exist. For that the influence of physical activity on mental rotation performance is
investigated in this study. Mental rotation is the ability to imagine how an object would look if rotated away from the
original orientation. Two groups of 44 students of educational science each solved a psychometrical mental rotation
task with three-dimensional block figures. After this, the participants of the physical activity group took part in a sport
lesson, whereas the participants of the cognitive activity group attended an oral lesson of kinematics. Both lessons took
45 minutes. Thereafter, all participants solved the mental rotation task again. The results showed that the participants
of the physical activity group improved their mental rotation performance whereas the participants of the cognitive
activity showed no improvement.
Keywords: Physical and Cognitive Performance, Pedagogic Implication
1. Introduction
It is the main goal of this paper to investigate the influ-
ence of physical activity on cognitive performance, es-
pecially on spatial cognition. This relation was already
formulated by Piaget [1]. In recent developmental re-
search it is postulated that activity dependent multi- mo-
dal experience is a core mechanism creating develop-
mental change [2]. This postulated relation is also evi-
dent in psychological research, where the relation be-
tween motor development and cognitive development is
investigated in more detail in infancy [3] as well as in
older adults [4]. Furthermore it was shown, that a dys-
function in motor development is often associated with a
dysfunction in cognitive development and vice versa
[5-7]. In sport science, a meta-analysis examined the
relationship between motor and cognitive development
[8,9] and revealed a positive correlation even though the
results are, as a rule, restricted to adults.
This evidence from educational, psychological and
sport science, is confirmed by the specific assumption
[10] that motor development and movement experience
are relevant factors for cognitive performance, especially
for spatial ability [11]. Spatial abilities are cognitive
processes composed of visualization, orientation and
mental rotation [12]. Within these factors, mental rota-
tion, i.e., the ability to imagine how an object would look
if rotated away from the orientation, in which it is actu-
ally presented [13], is an important and well-investigated
factor. Spatial cognition is fundamentally relevant for
problem solving [14], mathematics [15] and science [16].
What is almost completely absent until now is the ex-
perimental investigation of physical activity on a spatial
cognition task. According to our knowledge, only one
study investigated the effect of a specific motor training
in adults on mental rotation ability [17]. The authors pro-
vided evidence that a program of juggling training over a
period of three months improved mental rotation per-
formance in adults, compared to a control group that did
not receive any training. Because the physical activation
training in the former study lasted over three months, we
were interested if a short physical activation (45 minutes)
improved mental rotation as well. As a control group we
chose a kind of cognitive activation. Students had to lis-
ten to a theoretical lesson of physical activation while
they were allowed to ask something and to answer ques-
tions. Both groups were chosen because both were real
educational situations, which enhance the ecological va-
Because of the study of Jansen et al. [17] and the theo-
retical relation between motor and visual-spatial abilities
[10], it is assumed that students would profit more from a
physical activity lesson than from a theoretical lesson
Physical Activity Improves Mental Rotation Performance
regarding their mental rotation ability. This hypothesis is
ported by studies of central nervous processes. Neu-
roscientific studies showed a motor cortex activation
during mental rotation [18] as well as an increasing plas-
ticity after training of juggling [19] in exactly that brain
area (intraparietal sulcus) which is involved in mental
rotation [20]. This evidence gives a hint for the assumed
influence of physical activity on mental rotation per-
2. Method
2.1 Participants
88 students of educational science with sport science as
the main subject participated, 43 males (mean age: 23.66
years) and 45 females (mean age: 22.46 years). The stu-
dents participated in the physical activity group (EG, 22
men and 22 females) or in the cognitive activity group,
(CG, 21 men and 23 females). All participants gave their
written consent for participation.
2.2 Material and Procedure
For the measurement of the mental rotation performance
the paper-pencil mental rotation test, MRT, (Version A)
redrawn by Peters et al. [16], which was originally de-
veloped by Vandenberg and Kuse [21] with figures cre-
ated by Shepard and Metzler [13], was used. This test
consists of two sets of 12 items each. Each item contains
respectively a target figure on the left side and four sam-
ple stimuli that show the target figure in rotated versions.
Two of the four sample stimuli were the same than the
target figure. Participants had to find out these two items,
which were the same. Figure 1 shows an example of the
items used.
In the original test of Peters et al. [16], the items were
presented to the participants on four DIN A-4 sheets with
six items per sheet and a 3-min deadline to solve a set of
12 items (6 min for the entire test). Instructions were
Figure 1. An example of two items used in the Mental Rota-
tion Test. The target figure is shown on the left and the four
sample stimuli are presented aside. Always two of these are
identical to the target figure but are rotated in depth
Figure 2. The difference score between the post- and prae-
mental rotation test. The figure shows that participants in
the physical activity group received more points in the Post
Mental rotation test than in the pre-test, whereas the par-
ticipants of the cognitive activity group did not. Error bars
indicate standard errors
given in written form, followed by three training items so
that participants became familiar with the task. The correct
solutions of these training items were shown at the end
of the page. Participants were instructed to attempt a
solution for all 12 items within three minutes.
In this study the original test was used but the second
set of 12 items was presented only after 45 minutes. In
these 45 minutes participants of the physical activity
group received physical activity lesson which comprises
different activities as running, jumping, rope skipping
and callisthenics. The participants of the cognitive activ-
ity group attended a lecture on kinematics, where they
were allowed to ask something and to answer questions.
The post mental rotation test was completed directly af-
ter the 45 minutes lasting physical or oral lesson.
2.3 Statistical Analysis
The standard scoring method by Peters et al. [16] was
used: One point was given if and only if both correct
sample stimuli of a target figure were marked correctly.
Thus, participants could obtain 24 points maximum, 12
points in each test (pre-test, before the activity, and
post-test after the activity).
Thus, a one-factorial design with the between-subject
factor group (EG: physical activity, CG: cognitive activ-
ity) was used. The dependent variable was 1) number of
points in the first time of the MRT, to reveal that there is
no difference between two groups at the beginning of the
test and 2) the difference between the two groups the
number of correctly answered items in the MRT-A be-
tween the post- and the pre-test.
3. Results
There was no difference between the two groups in the
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
Physical Activity Improves Mental Rotation Performance
first part of the MRT, F(1,87) = 0.294, n.s.
Regarding the difference score, an ANOVA revealed a
significant main effect of Group F(1,87) = 5.03, p < 0.05,
η2 = 0.06.
Figure 2 shows, that the participants from the physical
activity group (M = 0.73, SE = 0.31) improved their
mental rotation performance whereas the participants
from the cognitive activity (M = –0.28, SE = 0.29) group
did not.
4. Discussion
This study indicated the relation between physical activ-
ity and mental rotation performance. Participants im-
proved their mental rotation performance after attending
a sport class for 45 minutes. They did not improve their
spatial performance when listening to an oral lesson be-
tween the two tests. Because we did not find an im-
provement in the cognitive activity group the post-pre
improvement in performance after physical activity can
not be expected from some kind of practice alone.
This study was a field experiment with a high eco-
logical validity and the most possible intern validity.
Both lessons were real educational settings. The lessons
were chosen because of their high comparability con-
cerning the duration, the time in the morning, they
started and the level of social participation. It was the
first step in a real educational setting investigating the
importance of physical activity on one specific cognitive
task. Further studies have to follow which examine the
relevant factors for the obtained results. A measurement
of physical and cognitive effort may be used in the fol-
lowing studies.
This result might have important implications for dif-
ferent disciplines, for sport science, psychology and es-
pecially for education. For people working in sport sci-
ence it is important to see, that a sportive training does
have this supporting effect on a cognitive task. That
means in other words that sport might support not only
physical but also cognitive fitness. For cognitive psy-
chologists the assumed link between cognitive and motor
processes is supported. Furthermore, this study has prac-
tical implications for educational science: It supports the
claim for more physical activity in school, knowing that
also cognitive learning will be enhanced by that. If one
takes these results seriously school systems have to reas-
sess their school curricula. Does it make any sense to
have one cognitive lesson after the other one – for six to
ten hours the day? These results provide evidence that
physical activity between school lessons might be indis-
pensable to obtain optimal cognitive performance in
Mental rotation is only one cognitive task, there are a
lot of other ones like for example attention and memory
tasks. Beside this there seems to be a link between men-
tal rotation ability and math performance, as suggested
by the work of e.g. Casey, Nuttall and Pezaris [22].
Therefore, one might speculate that motor learning might
also enhance maths performance. First evidence comes
from a study of Nilges [23] who outlined 6 spatial abili-
ties, which mediated both physical and mathematical
learning. Further empirical studies should investigate this
relation between physical activity and mathematic per-
formance in more detail.
This is only one study investigating experimentally the
influence of physical activity on cognitive performance.
The advantage of this study is the real educational situa-
tion setting. Other studies have to follow where this in-
fluence is investigated in more detail. Is the effect still
reliable if the second mental rotation test is not presented
directly after the cognitive or physical activity? Is this
effect also evident in children at school-age? Does this
improvement hold true for different kinds of physical
activity? More studies in this area might have a great
influence on physical and cognitive education in schools.
5. Acknowledgements
This study was supported by the German Research foun-
dation. We thank Michael Peters for his friendly permis-
sion to use the Mental Rotation Test (MRT) in our work
group. We thank our student assistants for their help
during data acquisition.
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... However, the few existing studies that do look at the relation between general physical activity and mental rotation performance indicate promising positive connections (Jansen, Lange, & Heil, 2011;Jansen & Lehmann, 2013;Jansen, Lehmann, & Van Doren, 2012;Jansen & Pietsch, 2010;Jansen, Titze, & Heil, 2009;Moreau, Clerc, Mansy-Dannay, & Guerrien, 2012;Moreau, Mansy-Dannay, Clerc, & Guerrien, 2011;Ozel, Larue, & Molinaro, 2002). The sports investigated have included juggling, football, gymnastics, and a range of different martial arts, such as fencing, judo, and wrestling, as well as physical activities such as running. ...
... Whether people with good mental rotation skills tend to choose sports that make high demands on their mental rotation performance, or whether sports with high levels of object rotations are in fact able to influence mental rotation performance, cannot be answered by this study. However, training and experimental studies do certainly suggest that this is the case (Jansen, Lange, et al., 2011;Jansen et al., 2009;Jansen & Pietsch, 2010;Moreau et al., 2011Moreau et al., , 2012. More intervention studies are required that compare different sports with one another and with nonathletes. ...
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The aim of this study was to examine whether athletes differ from nonathletes regarding their mental rotation performance. Furthermore, it investigated whether athletes doing sports requiring distinguishable levels of mental rotation (orienteering, gymnastics, running), as well as varying with respect to having an egocentric (gymnastics) or an allocentric perspective (orienteering), differ from each other. Therefore, the Mental Rotations Test (MRT) was carried out with 20 orienteers, 20 gymnasts, 20 runners, and 20 nonathletes. The results indicate large differences in mental rotation performance, with those actively doing sports outperforming the nonathletes. Analyses for the specific groups showed that orienteers and gymnasts differed from the nonathletes, whereas endurance runners did not. Contrary to expectations, the mental rotation performance of gymnasts did not differ from that of orienteers. This study also revealed gender differences in favor of men. Implications regarding a differentiated view of the connection between specific sports and mental rotation performance are discussed.
... However, it is surprising that the connection between different kinds of sports activities and mental rotation performance has sustained little pay attention so far. Few studies examined the relationship between sports activity and mental rotation performance (Ozel et al., 2002;Jansen and Pietsch 2010;Moreau et al., 2011;Jansen et al., 2012;). Lately, Jansen et al., (2012) showed that football players perform more advanced mental rotation in their chronometric mental rotation tasks compared to non-athletes. ...
... In another study, Moreau et al., (2011) also reported that the professional athletes who experienced the daily practice of a combat sport (wrestling, judo, fencing) had better mental rotation performance than the professional runners. Jansen and Pietsch (2010) stated that the mental rotation performance of the experimental group increased after attending a 45-minute sports practice class, while the control group did not increase their visual-spatial performance after listening to a class. With these findings, the neuroscience researchers have indicated that after juggling exercise, there is a rise in gray matter densities in the intraparietal sulcus (Draganski et al., 2004), which is one of the activated zones of the brain throughout a mental rotation tasks (Jordan et al., 2002;jancke et al., (2009). ...
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... Moreover, the positive effects of these training also transferred to other spatial tasks (Uttal et al., 2013). The ability of mental rotation may be influenced by experience, e.g., in spatial activities (Baenninger & Newcombe, 1989), sports (Jansen & Pietsch, 2010), and music (Pietsch & Jansen, 2012). ...
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... Because of this assumption, it is not unusual for sessions of physical exercise to demonstrate the capacity to improve mental rotation performance for both children (Pietsch et al., 2017) and adults (Jansen et al., 2009). Furthermore, enhancing effects have also been shown after acute exercise (Jansen & Pietsch, 2010) in line with the enhancing effects found by Chang et al. (2012) and Lambourne and Tomporowski (2010) for different cognitive tasks following exercise, but we have found no studies analyzing mental rotation performance during exercise. Moreover, facilitation has also been recognized for chronic exercise (Jansen et al., 2012;Voyer & Jansen, 2017). ...
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... A study of Jansen, Titze and Heil (2009) found that juggling training over three months improved mental rotation performance in adults. Jansen and Pietsch (2010) found an increased MR performance of participants after they attended a sport class for 45 min. Our study supports the literature and shows that sport has a positive effect on MR performance. ...
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Background: There is few research on teaching people about mental rotation skills. The first step in this field is to reveal that, which educational programs help individuals improve their performance. Objective: The purpose of this study is to compare the moderating effect of mental rotation ability on the amount of learning by mental exercise method in a motor skill (table tennis forehand). Methods: For this purpose, a semi-experimental method and pre-test and post-test research design were used. First, all subjects were evaluated by mental rotation test and then, according to the test scores divided into 2 two groups of 15 individuals (a mental exercise group with high mental rotation ability); (A mental exercise group with low mental rotation ability). Duration of intervention in this research was 4 weeks, 3 sessions per week and each session were 20 minutes of mental exercise. After completion of exercises, Acquisition, retention (immediate and delayed) and transfer tests were taken from both groups. Mental rotation ability of the subjects was assessed using the MRT mental rotation test(Peters,1995). In addition, the level of their mental imagery was evaluated by a movement imagery questionnaire- 3 (Williams et al., 2012) and forehand table tennis skill were assessed by a hit accuracy test. For analysis of the data, repeated measure test was performed using SPSS software. Results: The results of the between-group comparison for high and low mental rotation variable showed that four weeks of mental exercise intervention caused a significant difference compared to the pre-test. Conclusion: There is a difference between acquisition, retention, and transfer of forehand table tennis skill in individuals with high and low mental rotation in the mental exercise group.
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OCCUPATIONAL APPLICATIONS High-intensity work is associated with higher perceived fatigue, which could have a negative effect on both physical and cognitive performance. In particular, it may be unsafe and inefficient for workers to continue high-intensity physical work before complete recovery occurs (i.e., when heart rate returns to baseline levels). However, it is possible for workers to perform mental activities after subjective recovery time. After complete recovery, workers may return to performing the high-intensity physical work. The study evaluated a model of subjective recovery time using gender, relative body mass index, resting heart rate, perceived functional ability, and physical activity rating scores for high-intensity work tasks. With such subjective recovery time estimation, physical and mental work shift schedules that improve work efficiency can be designed.TECHNICAL ABSTRACT Background: Many research studies have investigated the relationship between high-intensity work and cognitive ...
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Does the structure of an adult human brain alter in response to environmental demands? Here we use whole-brain magnetic-resonance imaging to visualize learning-induced plasticity in the brains of volunteers who have learned to juggle. We find that these individuals show a transient and selective structural change in brain areas that are associated with the processing and storage of complex visual motion. This discovery of a stimulus-dependent alteration in the brain's macroscopic structure contradicts the traditionally held view that cortical plasticity is associated with functional rather than anatomical changes.
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The influence of juggling on mental rotation performance in children Study aim: To assess the influence of juggling training on mental rotation performance in children. Material and methods: Two groups of girls aged 6 - 14 years were studied: experimental (EG; n = 26) and control (CG; n = 24). All girls solved a mental rotation task with 3-D block figures on computer screen (pre-test). After the initial test, EG girls participated in juggling training for 3 months; the CG girls participated in light strength training with theraband stretch bands. After 3 months, all girls solved the mental rotation task again (post-test). The post-pre differences in the mental rotation performance were recorded. Results: Children who learned juggling performed the mental rotation task significantly (p<0.05 - 0.01) faster, in terms of reaction time, at non-zero angular disparity than their mates who were strength-trained. Conclusions: Since mental rotation skills enhance spatial imagination, problem solving and mathematical skills, it may be assumed that juggling training enhances also other cognitive domains and is worth implementing in the education process.
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At every moment of our lives, there is something going on, some experience. We see, hear, smell, touch, think. —Varela, Thompson, and Rosch 1993, 59 Piaget (1952) described a pattern of infant activity that he called a sec-ondary circular reaction. A rattle would be placed in a four-month-old infant's hands. As the infant moved the rattle, it would both come into sight and also make a noise, arousing and agitating the infant and causing more body motions, and thus causing the rattle to move into and out of sight and to make more noise. Infants at this age have very little organized control over hand and eye movement. They cannot yet reach for a rattle and if given one, they do not necessarily shake it. But if the infant accidentally moves it, and sees and hears the consequences, the infant will become captured by the activity—moving and shaking, looking and listening—and incrementally through this repeated action gaining intentional control over the shaking of the rattle. Piaget thought that this pattern of activity—an accidental action that leads to an interesting and arousing outcome and thus more activity and the re-experience of the outcome—to be foundational to development itself. Circular reactions are perception-action loops that create opportunities for learning. In the case of the rattle, the repeated activity teaches how to control one's body, which actions bring held objects into view, and how sights, sounds and actions correspond. Edelman (1987) also pointed to the coupling of heterogeneous senso-rimotor systems in the creation of cognition. Edelman's theory starts by recognizing the multimodal nature of the brain at birth; it is—from the start—a complex system made up of many heterogeneous, overlapping, interacting and densely connected subsystems. Like Piaget, Edelman pro-posed that development occurs through activity dependent processes.
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The onset of locomotion heralds one of the major life transitions in early development and involves a pervasive set of changes in perception, spatial cognition, and social and emotional development. Through a synthesis of published and hitherto unpublished findings, gathered from a number of converging research designs and methods, this article provides a comprehensive review and reanalysis of the consequences of self-produced locomotor experience. Specifically, we focus on the role of locomotor experience in changes in social and emotional development, referential gestural communication, wariness of heights, the perception of self-motion, distance perception, spatial search, and spatial coding strategies. Our analysis reveals new insights into the specific processes by which locomotor experience brings about psychological changes. We elaborate these processes and provide new predictions about previously unsuspected links between locomotor experience and psychological function. The research we describe is relevant to our broad understanding of the developmental process, particularly as it pertains to developmental transitions. Although acknowledging the role of genetically mediated developmental changes, our viewpoint is a transactional one in which a single acquisition, in this case the onset of locomotion, sets in motion a family of experiences and processes that in turn mobilize both broad-based and context-specific psychological reorganizations. We conclude that, in infancy, the onset of locomotor experience brings about widespread consequences, and after infancy, can be responsible for an enduring role in development by maintaining and updating existing skills.
Nearly 200 studies have examined the impact that either acute or long-term exercise has upon cognition. Subsets of these studies have been reviewed using the traditional narrative method, and the common conclusion has been that the results are mixed. Therefore, a more comprehensive review is needed that includes all available studies and that provides a more objective and reproducible review process. Thus, a meta-analytic review was conducted that included all relevant studies with sufficient information for the calculation of effect size (W = 134). The overall effect size was 0.25, suggesting that exercise has a small positive effect on cognition. Examination of the moderator variables indicated that characteristics related to the exercise paradigm, the participants, the cognitive tests, and the quality of the study influence effect size. However, the most important finding was that as experimental rigor decreased, effect size increased. Therefore, more studies need to be conducted that emphasize experimental rigor.
Two groups of engineering students were tested for spatial ability (Mental Rotation Test = MRT). There were sex differences favouring males, similar to those seen in other academic programs. There were no significant sex differences in academic course performance, suggesting that differences in spatial ability as measured by the MRT do not have an impact on course performance. In addition, minimal experience with the mental rotation task produced large gains in performance and reduced the magnitude of sex differences. The results suggest that sweeping statements about the relation between differences in spatial ability and performance in science and mathematics subject areas, especially with reference to females, must be viewed with caution.