Spatial ability and motor performance: Assessing mental rotation processes in elite and novice athletes

David Moreau *, Annie Mansy-Dannay **, Jérôme Clerc ** and Alain Guerrién **

(*) Departement of Psychology, Princeton University, USA
(**) EA 4072 PSITEC, University of Lille-North, France


Moreau, D., Mansy-Dannay, A., Clerc, J., Guerrién, A. (2011). Spatial ability and motor performance: Assessing mental rotation processes in elite and novice athletes. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 42(6), 525-547.


Experimental and brain imaging studies provide strong evidence for the involvement of motor processes in spatial ability problems, such as mental rotation tasks. This study was designed to assess the relationship between motor performance in sport and mental rotation problems solving. Elite and novice athletes in various sports completed two spatial ability tasks the Mental Rotation Test (MRT), sport specific training and MRT results (experiments 1 & 2), Vandenberg & Kuse, 1978) and the Movement Imagery Specific Test (MIST, Moreau, Clerc, Mansy-Dannay, Guerrien, 2010). If motor processes are decisive in spatial ability tasks, we should find differences favoring individuals involved in activities that require complex motor skills. Interestingly, we found a significant relationship between sports performance, activity, sport-specific training and MRT results (experiment 1 & 2). In addition, the well-documented gender effect on the MRT was confirmed (experiments 1 & 2). Results also underlined that elite athletes gained efficiency by using flexible strategies, which can be adjusted to the particular problems encountered (experiment 2). These results help fostering our understanding of the relationship between motor representations, spatial abilities and performance in sports. They are discussed in terms of their implications to general spatial ability models and to training procedures or sports advertising.

Keywords: Mental rotation, Motor representation, Spatial ability, Sport performance, Strategies