Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Shannon M. Pruden

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Anthony Dick

Second Advisor's Committee Title

committee member

Third Advisor's Name

Asia Eaton

Third Advisor's Committee Title

committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Angela Laird

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

committee member


Mental Rotation, Cognitive Strategy, Strategy Flexibility, Eye-tracking, Spatial Activity

Date of Defense



Research on mental rotation has consistently found sex differences, with males outperforming females on mental rotation tasks like the Vandenberg and Kuse (1978) mental rotation test (MRT; D. Voyer, Voyer, & Bryden, 1995). Mental rotation ability has been found to be enhanced with experience (Nazareth, Herrera & Pruden, 2013) and training (Wright, Thompson, Ganis, Newcombe, & Kosslyn, 2008) and the effects of training have been found to be transferable to other spatial tasks (Wright et al., 2008) and sustainable for months (Terlecki, Newcombe, & Little, 2008). Although, we now are fairly certain about the malleability of spatial tasks and the role of spatial activity experience, we seem to have undervalued an important piece of the puzzle. What is the mechanism by which experiential factors enhance mental rotation performance? In other words, what is it that develops in an individual as a consequence of experience? The current dissertation sought to address this gap in the literature by examining cognitive strategy selection as a possible mechanism by which experiential factors like early spatial activity experience enhance mental rotation performance. A total of 387 adult university students were randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions. The three experimental conditions differed in the amount and type of non-spatial information present in the task stimuli. Participant eye movement was recorded using a Tobii X60 eye tracker. Study I investigated the different types of cognitive strategies selected during mental rotation, where eye movement patterns were used as indicators of the underlying cognitive strategies. A latent profile analysis revealed two distinct eye movement patterns significantly predicting mental rotation performance. Study II examined the role of early spatial activity experience in mental rotation performance. Male sex-typed spatial activities were found to significantly mediate the relation between participant sex and mental rotation performance. Finally, Study III examined the developmental role of early spatial activity experience in cognitive strategy selection and strategy flexibility to enhance mental rotation performance. Strategy flexibility was found to be significantly associated with mental rotation performance. Male sex-typed spatial activity experiences were found to be significantly associated with cognitive strategy selection but not strategy flexibility. Implications for spatial training and educational pedagogy in the STEM fields are discussed.





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