2013. Vol.4, No.6, 418-422
Published Online June 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ce) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ce.2013.46060
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 418
The Improvement of Mental Rotation Performance in Second
Graders after Creative Dance Training
Petra Jansen*, Jan Kellner, Cornelia Rieder
Institute of Sport Science, University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany
Received November 8th, 2012; revised April 28th, 2013; accepted May 9th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Petra Jansen et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons At-
tribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
The study presented here investigated the influence of creative dance training on mental rotation per-
formance. Two groups of second graders solved a paper-pencil mental rotation test and a motor perform-
ance test. Afterwards one group received five weeks of normal physical education lessons, while the other
group received five weeks of creative dance training. At the end of the training period all children solved
the mental rotation again. The results show that the dance-training group improved their mental rotation
performance more than the physical education group. Further studies should investigate whether this posi-
tive effect of creative dance training transfers to cognitive, social, and emotional skills, such as a possible
enhancement of self-esteem.
Keywords: Mental Rotation; School-Aged Children; Motor Performance; Creative Dance; Regular Sports
Due to the decreasing motor abilities of children in the last
few years on the one hand and the increasing pressure to per-
form well in the educational system on the other hand, it be-
comes more and more important to comprehend the relationship
between motor abilities and cognitive performance. This study
concentrates on the effect of creative dance training on one
specific visual-spatial performance task, namely mental rotation,
which describes the ability to imagine how an object would
appear when it is rotated from its actual presented orientation
(Shepard & Metzler, 1971). Mental rotation serves an important
role in science, and some work contexts, for example, for pilots
(Dror, Kosslyn, & Waag, 1993). Furthermore, it is also a rele-
vant factor for mathematical learning (Hegarty & Kozheh-
vnikov, 1999). Because in dance-training, orientation in space
and spatial awareness are two of the main cognitive abilities
(Bläsing & Schack, 2012), a positive influence of dance train-
ing on mental rotation is expected.
Currently there are some studies, with different methodo-
logical designs, which already show a relationship between
motor performance and mental rotation performance. A corre-
lation analysis by Jansen and Heil (2010) showed that motor
abilities and mental rotation performance do correlate even
while general intelligence was controlled (Jansen & Heil, 2010).
In studies with quasi-experimental designs, it was investigated
whether children who showed motor disabilities also have im-
paired mental rotation performance. This assumption was con-
firmed in studies with children with spina bifida (Wiedenbauer
& Jansen-Osmann, 2007) and overweight children (Jansen et al.,
2010). Spina bifida is a neural defect caused by an incomplete
closure of the embryonic neural tube during the first month of
embryonic development. The consequences of this can be pa-
ralysis and loss of sensation below the spinal cord defect. The
severity of the symptoms depends on the defect’s location. For
this, children with spina bifida are unable to move with out help.
Being overweight was determined by the Body Mass Index
according to reference data and it was already shown that over-
weight children show an impaired motor performance (Graf et
Experimental designs can be further differentiated by the use
of interference paradigms or training programs. One prominent
study with an interference design is the study of Wexler, Koss-
lyn and Berthoz (1998) who showed that if the direction of a
mental and a simultaneous conducted manual rotation were not
compatible, reaction times were slower and more errors oc-
curred than if the directions of both rotations were compatible
with each other. This interference effect was confirmed in a
study with children at the ages of 5, 8, and 11 years old and
adults. The effect was demonstrated in the two groups of youn-
ger children , but it was not found in the 11 years old children
and not in adults (Frick, Daum, Walser, & Mast, 2009). In
training studies, it has been shown, that the mental rotation
performance could be improved by manual rotation training
(Wiedenbauer & Jansen-Osmann, 2008). Two groups of ten-
year old children received computer training for one hour. The
experimental group used a joystick to rotate objects on a com-
puter screen, while the control group solved a non-spatial com-
puter game. The improvement in the mental rotation perform-
ance from the pre- to the posttest was much higher for the man-
ual rotation group than for the control group. This result was
confirmed in a study with adults (Jansen, Titze, & Heil, 2009)
and children (Jansen, Lange, & Heil, 2011) who learned to
P. JANSEN ET AL.
juggle for a period of three months.
In none of the training studies mentioned above, the influ-
ence of dance training on mental rotation performance is inves-
tigated. Up to now, there are no studies with children, yet there
are studies with older people investigating the influence of dan-
ce training on cognitive performance (Coubard Duretz, Le-
febvre, Lapalus, & Ferrufino, 2011; Kattenstroth, Kolanko-
wska, Kalisch, & Dinse 2010) but not particularly mental rota-
tion. Keinänen, Hetland and Winner (2000) investigated whe-
ther dancing leads to enhanced academic skills in two small
meta-analyses. Their results suggest that dance instruction im-
proves visual-spatial skills. Due to the spatial components in
dance, the training of orientation and spatial awareness, a posi-
tive training influence of dance training on mental rotation per-
formance in second graders is supposed. Furthermore, it can be
assumed that dance training enhances motor ability in school-
Material & Methods
Sixty-five second grade pupils (31 girls and 34 boys) par-
ticipated in this study. The children were between 7 and 9 years
old (mean age: 7.68 years, SD = .503) and were recruited from
a primary school in Bavaria, Germany. Because the children
were tested in their school context, two classes (44 children, 20
girls and 24 boys) were randomly assigned to the experimental
group (EG), who received dance training. One class, (21 chil-
dren, 11 girls and 10 boys), was assigned to the control group
(CG), and took part in the normal physical education at school.
Parents gave written informed consent and data was collected
A mental rotation test (PMRT), a motor ability test (Move-
ment Assessment Battery, M-ABC-2), and a test of cognitive
speed (ZVT) were used. All tests will be described in detail
Picture Mental Rotation Test (PMRT, Neuburge r , Janse n,
Heil, & Quaiser-Pohl, 2011)
The Picture Mental Rotations Test is a paper pencil mental
rotation test and we included one set of animal pictures as stim-
uli. Each row is comprised of one target item on the left side
and four sample items on the right side. Two of the four items
on the right side were correct, meaning identical but picture
plane rotated versions of the target item on the left side (45˚,
90˚, 135˚, or 225˚ rotated compared to target item). The other
two items were incorrect, which means that they were mirror
images of the target item (see Figure 1). The children’s task
was to cross out the two correct items on the right side within a
time limit of three minutes for the 16 rows. There were two
Example item of the mental rotation test.
items provided as examples and two items for practice that
were reviewed before the test began. Rotation performance was
defined as the number of correctly solved items in the MRT.
Movement Assessment Battery for Children,
(M-ABC-2, Petermann, 2009)
The Movement-ABC-2 was used to control for motor advan-
tages or deficits in the children. It consists of eight motor tasks
divided in the following categories: manual dexterity (3 tasks),
ball skills (2 tasks), and static and dynamic balance (3 tasks).
The results were analyzed for each task and a total score was
computed. The inter-rater-reliability for the M-ABC is .95 and
the retest-reliability is .95.
Number Connection Test, (ZVT, Oswald & Roth, 1982)
The ZVT is a measurement of cognitive speed and is related
to intelligence measurements, with a correlation of r = .60 to .80
(Vernon, 1993). All values could be transformed in IQ-values.
This test consists of four sheets of paper. On each sheet, the
numbers 1 to 90 are presented in a scrambled order in a matrix
of 9 rows and 10 columns. The children must connect the num-
bers as fast as possible in ascending order with a pen in a time
slot of 60 seconds per sheet. The number of correctly connected
numbers was analyzed for each participant. The test-retest reli-
ability (six month) of the ZVT reads about .90 to .95. The ZVT
is the equivalent to the Trail Making Test A (Reitan, 1956). The
test administration, including instructions and practice matrices,
takes about 20 minutes.
Dance training as creative dance training was taught in five
sessions. Each week a new theme was developed and matched
with the appropriate music. The idea of creative dance for chil-
dren is to activate the body as well as the mind through dance
and music. The children are guided to express their own per-
sonality and create their own composition while telling a story
or reacting a scene through dance instead of simply rehearsing a
distinct choreography. Every unit started with a short warm up
where the children were instructed to use different movement
styles like e.g. robot, disco queen, crazy opera singer, or mari-
onette. The themes developed in the five weeks of training were
Magic House Task
Children had to imagine that they move through different
rooms in a house, and they had to transform into a different
animal in each different room. Then they were allowed to move
like this specific animal and simulate waking up, a possible
hibernation, falling asleep etc.
Children had to represent different weather situations.
Cowboy’s and Indian’s Task
Children should develop a short story plot with Cowboys and
Indians. First, the Cowboys and Indians fight with each other
and later dance together. Big city task: Children had to embody
the awakening of a big city and act like different characters
typically found in big cities like bus drivers, policemen, home-
less people, businessmen, etc. These characters were named to
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 419
P. JANSEN ET AL.
Round the World Task
Children were flying around the world (imitate airplanes)
with stops in different countries imitating different nationalities
through their dance styles (USA-High Five, Russia-Kazachok,
Japan-make a bow, Austria-“Schuhplattler” (an Austrian folk-
dance), Home-clapping game).
Children in the control group took part in the normal physi-
cal education during the five weeks with the constraint that no
dancing or physical lessons with a lot of rotational movements
and gymnastics were performed. For that reason children had
lessons in track and field and ball games. In these lessons they
learned to throw and catch balls and to play with each other
games with rules.
Children were tested in a multipurpose room (M-ABC-2) and
in their classroom (PMRT and ZVT) during regular school time
before two-week holidays. After a short introduction, children
had to complete the M-ABC-2 in groups of 8. After a short
break children had to solve the PMRT and then the ZVT all
together in their class-room. Training started in the week fol-
lowing the vacation and went on for five weeks. The training
was conducted three times a week for 45 minutes. The experi-
mental group received specific dance training (see description
above). The control group took part in the normal physical
education lessons in school. These lessons took part also three
times a week for 45 minutes. The mental rotation performance
of all children was tested again in the week following the last
week of training.
First, two different univariate analysis of variance were con-
ducted with 1) the cognitive speed measurements score and 2)
the total score of the M-ABC-2 as dependent variables and the
independent variables “group” (experimental group, control
group) and “gender” (female, male).
Second, one analysis of variance was conducted with the de-
pendent variable and “mental rotation difference” which are
defined as the difference between the pre- and post test in men-
tal rotation performance. The independent variables were the
factor, “group” (experimental group, control group), and the
factor, “gender” (male, female). Because of the well-docu-
mented gender differences in the MRT psychometrical mental
rotation test (Neuburger et al., 2011), gender was chosen as a
Third, a correlation analysis was calculated between mental
rotation performance, IQ score, and M-ABC-2 scores. For this,
the pretest data were used. Due to multiple testing in the corre-
lation analyses the significance level was corrected by the
Bonferroni method and the level of p ≤ .01 was considered
Analyses of Variance
Cognitive Processing Speed
There was no main effect of “group”, F(1,61) = .65, n.s., and
of “gender”, F(1,61) = .08, n.s. and no interaction between both
Mean (standard deviation) of cognitive processing speed and motor
performance dependent on gender and group.
(N = 20) 104.35 (8.76) 63.08 (25.28)
(N = 24) 103.83 (11.79) 63.52 (28.81)
(N = 11) 107.18 (10.14) 80.18 (25.25)
(N = 10) 105.9 (15.82) 62.3 (25.15)
factors, F(1,61) = .016, n.s. (see Table 1).
Motor Performa nce
There was no main effect of “group”, F(1,61) = 1.5, n.s., and
of “gender”, F(1,61) = 1.21, n.s. and no interaction between
both factors, F(1,63) = 1.55 n.s., in the overall motor perform-
ance score (see Table 1).
Effect of Training on Mental Rotation Performance
There was only a significant main effect of “group”, F(1,61)
= 5.14, p < .05, η2 = .08, but not of “gender”, F(1,61) = .93, n.s.,
and no significant interaction between both factors F(1,61) =
1.63, n.s., in the difference score in mental difference. The dif-
ference between the pre- and posttest was higher for the chil-
dren in the experimental group (EG) compared to the children
in the control group (CG) (EG: M = 3.58, SE = .46; CG: M =
1.71, SE = .68). The EG and the CG did not differ in their men-
tal rotation performance in the pre-test, F(1, 62) = 1.84, n.s. The
results are presented in Figure 2.
Correlational Ana lyses
Mental rotation performance was correlated with intelligence
(r = .384, p < .001) and with certain dimensions of the Move-
ment-ABC-2, namely with hand dexterity (r = .297, p < .01)
and the overall motor score (r = .262, p < .01). Mental rotation
did not correlate with balance or ball tasks. The bivariate corre-
lations, however, do not permit us to determine whether or not
motor development can predict significant additional variance
of mental rotation performance over and above individual dif-
ferences in intelligence.
The stepwise multiple regression results (see Table 2) show
that only 13.9% of the variance (R2 = .147) is explained by the
predictor cognitive speed, F(1, 102) = 17.47, p < .001.
This experiment showed that mental rotation performance
could be improved in a school context by physical education
lessons and creative dance training, whereby the improvement
was higher for the creative dance training compared to physical
education lessons. The higher improvement of the EG could not
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
P. JANSEN ET AL.
Difference score (mean and standard deviation) between pre- and post-
test on mental rotation dependent on gender and group.
Stepwise multiple regression model for the mental rotation performance
based on the following predictors: gender, hand dexterity, motor score
and cognitive processing speed (IQ).
coefficient ß T p
processing speed .150 .384 4.180 <.001
Total motor score .129 1.258 >.2
be explained by each group receiving different levels of atten-
tion, because the children of the EG and the ones of the CG
both knew that they participated in an experiment and the
trainings were equivalent in time. Because the dance training
required spatial orientation and rotation around the body axes,
the higher improvement of the dance-training group compared
to the control group, who did not receive orientation or rota-
tional training could be attributed to the kind of training each
group received. This result is in line with a quasi-experimental
study of Steggemann, Engbert and Weigelt (2011), who show-
ed that rotational movement experts had a better mental rotation
performance, even though this result appeared only with per-
spective transformations and not with object based mental rota-
tions. Both groups in the current study did not differ in their
speed of cognitive processing and their overall motor perform-
ance, so we can conclude that the positive result of the dance
training could not be attributed to a possible cognitive process-
ing speed difference.
The regression analysis showed that only a small amount of
variance could be explained by the measurement, of speed of
cognitive processing, but not by motor ability. This is in con-
trast to the correlational analysis of Jansen and Heil (2010).
They showed in a study with preschool children that two items
of a specific motor test, the MOT 4 - 6, “collecting sticks bi-
manually” and “winding through a hoop without touching the
hoop” predict mental rotation performance even while includ-
ing an intelligence measurement in the regression analysis.
Both studies differ in many factors, as for example the mental
rotation test used, the motor- and intelligence measurement, and
the age of the children. It is quite astonishing that the mental
rotation performance could not be strongly predicted in this
study by intelligence or motor abilities. Other variables, not
investigated in this study, seem to play an important role ex-
plaining the mental rotation performance when using embodied
stimuli, such as emotional processing and working memory.
Mammarella (2011) showed an increase in mental rotation
abilities after unconscious visual processing of emotional ex-
pressions. While the influence of emotions has only been dem-
onstrated for embodied stimuli, it may also be a factor for
non-embodied stimuli, as for example abstract cube figues.
According to this, emotional processes should be considered in
further analysis of mental rotation as well as working memory
processes. The importance of working memory processes dur-
ing mental rotation was shown in several neuroscientific studies
by e.g. Anguera, Reuter-Lorenz, Willingham and Seidler (2009)
and Jordan, Heinze, Lutz, Kanowski and Jäncke (2001). At this
point behavioral studies which are missing to investigate the
relationship between mental rotation- and working has shown
that creative dance training improved mental rotation perform-
ance more than the “normal” physical education lessons. Dance
is an activity that generally refers to movement of the body,
usually rhythmic, to music and is used as a form of expression
and social interaction. Because dance involves so many differ-
ent aspects, e.g. motor, cognitive, and social ones, it is not as-
tonishing that dance has this enhancing effect on mental rota-
In addition to the cognitive effects of the creative dance
training, the training effect on motor abilities has to be consid-
ered in further studies. There are some studies with patients
with Parkinson Disease, which show that dance training can
improve their motor deficit symptoms (Hackney & Earhart,
2009, 2010). Due to this promising result the effect of dance
training on specific motor tasks, as for example balance, has to
be investigated in more detail.
To conclude, this study gives support to the assumption that
dance training can enhance mental rotation performance and
that this kind of training is more effective for this improvement
than normal physical education lessons. In further studies it has
to be investigated if this effect transfers to cognitive, social, and
emotional skills, such as a possible enhancement of self-esteem.
In addition, it should be explored in more detail why dance
especially has such a positive impact on mental rotation skills.
To summarize, while more research is clearly needed, the study
suggests that creative dance training improves cognitive skills.
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