The effects of healthy aging on mental imagery as revealed by egocentric and allocentric mental spatial transformations

Luca De Simone, Barbara Tomasino, Nela Marusic, Roberto Eleopra, Raffaella Ida Rumiati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous studies suggest that mental rotation can be accomplished by using different mental spatial transformations. When adopting the allocentric transformation, individuals imagine the stimulus rotation referring to its intrinsic coordinate frame, while when adopting the egocentric transformation they rely on multisensory and sensory-motor mechanisms. However, how these mental transformations evolve during healthy aging has received little attention. Here we investigated how visual, multisensory, and sensory-motor components of mental imagery change with normal aging. Fifteen elderly and 15 young participants were asked to perform two different laterality tasks within either an allocentric or an egocentric frame of reference. Participants had to judge either the handedness of a visual hand (egocentric task) or the location of a marker placed on the left or right side of the same visual hand (allocentric task). Both left and right hands were presented at various angular departures to the left, the right, or to the center of the screen. When performing the egocentric task, elderly participants were less accurate and slower for biomechanically awkward hand postures (i.e., lateral hand orientations). Their performance also decreased when stimuli were presented laterally. The findings revealed that healthy aging is associated with a specific degradation of sensory-motor mechanisms necessary to accomplish complex effector-centered mental transformations. Moreover, failure to find a difference in judging left or right hand laterality suggests that aging does not necessarily impair non-dominant hand sensory-motor programs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)146-156
Number of pages11
JournalActa Psychologica
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 2013


  • Aging
  • Imagery
  • Laterality
  • Motor
  • Sensory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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