Abstract

A large number of imaging studies have identified a role for the posterior parietal lobe, in particular Brodmann's area 7 and the intraparietal sulcus (IPS), in mental rotation. Here we investigated whether neural activity in the posterior parietal lobe is essential for successful mental rotation performance by observing the effects of interrupting this activity during the execution of a mental rotation task. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) was applied to posterior parietal locations estimated to overlie Brodmann's area 7 in the right and the left hemisphere, or to a posterior midline location (sham condition). In three separate experiments, rTMS (four pulses, 20 Hz) was delivered at these locations either 200–400, 400–600, or 600–800 msec after the onset of a mental rotation trial. Disrupting neural activity in the right parietal lobe interfered with task performance, but only when rTMS was delivered 400 to 600 msec after stimulus onset. Stimulation of the left parietal lobe did not reliably affect mental rotation performance at any of the time points investigated. The time-limited effect of rTMS was replicated in a fourth experiment that directly compared the effects of rTMS applied to the right parietal lobe either 200–400 or 400–600 msec into the mental rotation trial. The results indicate that the right superior posterior parietal lobe plays an essential role in mental rotation, consistent with its involvement in a variety of visuospatial and visuomotor transformations.

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