Journal article Open Access

Mental rotation skill shapes haptic exploration strategies

Leo, Fabrizio; Sandini, Giulio; Sciutti, Alessandra

Haptic exploration strategies have been traditionally studied focusing on hand movements and neglecting how objects are moved in space. However, in daily life situations touch and movement cannot be disentangled. Furthermore, the relation between object manipulation as well as performance in haptic tasks and spatial skill is still little understood. In this study, we used iCube, a sensorized cube recording its orientation in space as well as the location of the points of contact on its faces. Participants had to explore the cube faces where little pins were positioned in varying number and count the number of pins on the faces with either even or odd number of pins. At the end of this task, they also completed a standard visual mental rotation test (MRT). Results showed that higher MRT scores were associated with better performance in the task with iCube both in term of accuracy and exploration speed and exploration strategies associated with better performance were identified. High performers tended to rotate the cube so that the explored face had the same spatial orientation (i.e., they preferentially explored the upward face and rotated iCube to explore the next face in the same orientation). They also explored less often twice the same face and were faster and more systematic in moving from one face to the next. These findings indicate that iCube could be used to infer subjects’ spatial skill in a more natural and unobtrusive fashion than with standard MRTs.

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