Self-Report Reveals the Relationship Between Mental Rotation Approach and Performance in Middle Childhood




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Despite recent increased interest in mental rotation, much remains unknown about the development of this skill. In particular, little is known about the approach children are taking to solving mental rotation problems, or how their approach related to performance. Young children may rely heavily on a piecemeal approach which involves using a unique aspect or feature of an object to attempt to determine what that object would look like when rotated. This approach appears to persist, to varying degrees, in adults. Some research suggests, however, that adults who are better rotators more frequently use a whole object approach which involves mentally manipulating the object as a whole. To date, it is unclear whether the relationship between performance and approach is present in children or when children move from relying on a piecemeal approach to incorporation of a whole object approach. To address these questions, six to eleven-year-old children were asked to complete two mental rotation tasks and describe their approach to solving the problems. Children’s use of a whole object approach did not differ by age, but across ages children who reported using a whole object approach more frequently, performed faster on one task and had higher accuracy on the other. These findings suggest that there is not a consistent point in middle childhood when children switch from relying on a piecemeal approach to using a whole object approach, but that the approach they use across ages is related to mental rotation performance.



Mental rotation, Child development, Problem solving in children