Rotated alphanumeric characters do not automatically activate frontoparietal areas subserving mental rotation.Neuroimage. 2009 Feb 01; 44(3):1063-73.N
Functional neuroimaging studies have identified a set of areas in the intraparietal sulcus and dorsal precentral cortex which show a linear increase in activity with the angle of rotation across a variety of mental rotation tasks. This linear increase in activity with angular disparity suggests that these frontoparietal regions compute rotational transformations. An open question is whether rotated target stimuli automatically activate these frontoparietal regions, even if the task does not require rotational transformations. To address this question, we performed functional MRI while healthy male volunteers made two-choice reaction-time judgements on canonical or mirror images of two-dimensional alphanumeric characters presented at various angles of rotation. Participants had either to decide whether characters were normal or mirror-reversed (i.e., mental rotation) or judge whether the stimulus was a letter or a number (i.e., stimulus categorization). Reaction times and error rates linearly increased with the angle of rotation for mirror-reversed judgements but not for number-letter judgements, showing that only the mental rotation task required rotational transformations of the characters. The mental rotation task was associated with a linear increase in neuronal activity with angular disparity in a bilateral set of frontoparietal areas, comprising the rostral dorsal premotor cortex, frontal eye field, ventral and medial intraparietal sulcus. Neuronal activity in these regions was neither increased nor modulated by angular disparity during the stimulus categorization task. These results suggest that at least for alphanumerical characters, areas implicated in mental rotation will only be called into action if the task requires a rotational transformation.