Mental Rotation Training in Older Adults: The Role of Practice and Strategy

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There is evidence of mental rotation (MR) abilities responding to training even in older adults, but it is still not clear whether such training would have generalized and maintained effects. The aim of the present study was to examine the specific short- and long-term gains, and any transfer effects, induced by rotation training in healthy older adults. The study involved 43 healthy older adults: 14 practiced with 2 MR tasks, that is, a 3D same/different comparisons task and a Tetris game (the Mental Rotation [MR] group); 15 were trained to use a strategy based on concrete object manipulation and imagery, then practiced with the 2 rotation tasks (Strategy [S] + MR group); and 14 were involved in alternative nonspatial activities (active control group). Transfer and maintenance effects were assessed (after 1 month) using tasks similar to those used in the training (criterion tasks), different spatial tasks (mental rotation and perspective taking tasks) and a fluid intelligence task. The results showed a trend toward an improvement in successive training sessions. The S + MR and MR groups both gained substantially more than the active control group in the short- and long-term, in the criterion tasks and most of the tasks testing transfer effects. The S + MR group showed greater long-term gains than the MR group in most tasks. These findings support a positive effect of rotation training in older adults, particularly when associated with strategy use.

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