Embodied Spatial Transformations: “Body Analogy” for the Mental Rotation of Objects

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Abstract

The cognitive advantage of imagined spatial transformations of the human body over that of more unfamiliar objects (e.g., Shepard-Metzler [S-M] cubes) is an issue for validating motor theories of visual perception. In 6 experiments, the authors show that providing S-M cubes with body characteristics (e.g., by adding a head to S-M cubes to evoke a posture) facilitates the mapping of the cognitive coordinate system of one's body onto the abstract shape. In turn, this spatial embodiment improves object shape matching. Thanks to the increased cohesiveness of human posture in people's body schema, imagined transformations of the body operate in a less piecemeal fashion as compared with objects (S-M cubes or swing-arm desk lamps) under a similar spatial configuration, provided that the pose can be embodied. If the pose cannot be emulated (covert imitation) by the sensorimotor system, the facilitation due to motoric embodiment will also be disrupted.

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