Mental rotation of anthropoid hands: a chronometric study

Document Type: 
Article Type: 
Handedness recognition, Mental rotation, Manual reaction time, Motor imagery, Mirror neurons, Imitation
Deposited by: 
Dr. Luiz G Gawryszewski
Date of Issue: 
L.G. Gawryszewski, C.F. Silva-dos-Santos, J.C. Santos-Silva, A.P. Lameira, A. Pereira Jr.
Journal/Publication Title: 
Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research
Issue Number: 
Page Range: 
Official URL:
It has been shown that mental rotation of objects and human body parts is processed differently in the human brain. But what about body parts belonging to other primates? Does our brain process this information like any other object or does it instead maximize the structural similarities with our homologous body parts? We tried to answer this question by measuring the manual reaction time (MRT) of human participants discriminating the handedness of drawings representing the hands of four anthropoid primates (orangutan, chimpanzee, gorilla, and human). Twenty-four right-handed volunteers (13 males and 11 females) were instructed to judge the handedness of a hand drawing in palm view by pressing a left/right key. The orientation of hand drawings varied from 0º (fingers upwards) to 90º lateral (fingers pointing away from the midline), 180º (fingers downwards) and 90º medial (finger towards the midline). The results showed an effect of rotation angle (F(3, 69) = 19.57, P < 0.001), but not of hand identity, on MRTs. Moreover, for all hand drawings, a medial rotation elicited shorter MRTs than a lateral rotation (960 and 1169 ms, respectively, P < 0.05). This result has been previously observed for drawings of the human hand and related to biomechanical constraints of movement performance. Our findings indicate that anthropoid hands are essentially equivalent stimuli for handedness recognition. Since the task involves mentally simulating the posture and rotation of the hands, we wondered if “mirror neurons” could be involved in establishing the motor equivalence between the stimuli and the participants' own hands.
MS6473_FINAL_ASSC.pdf186.02 KB