Mental rotation: effects of dimensionality of objects and type of task.J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 1988 Feb; 14(1):3-11.JE
The original studies of mental rotation estimated rates of imagining rotations that were much slower when two simultaneously portrayed three-dimensional shapes were to be compared (R. Shepard & J. Metzler) than when one two-dimensional shape was to be compared with a previously learned two-dimensional shape (Cooper and her associates). In a 2 X 2 design, we orthogonally varied dimensionality of objects and type of task. Both factors affected reaction times. Type of task was the primary determiner of estimated rate of mental rotation, which was about three times higher for the single-stimulus task. Dimensionality primarily affected an additive component of all reaction times, suggesting that more initial encoding is required for three-dimensional shapes. In the absence of a satisfactory way of controlling stimulus complexity, the results are at least consistent with the proposal that once three-dimensional objects have been encoded, their rotation can be imagined as rapidly as the rotation of two-dimensional shapes.