Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation of Primary Motor Cortex Affects Mental Rotation

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Neuroimaging studies have shown that motor structures are activated not only during overt motor behavior but also during tasks that require no overt motor behavior, such as motor imagery and mental rotation. We tested the hypothesis that activation of the primary motor cortex is needed for mental rotation by using single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Single-pulse TMS was delivered to the representation of the hand in left primary motor cortex while participants performed mental rotation of pictures of hands and feet. Relative to a peripheral magnetic stimulation control condition, response times (RTs) were slower when TMS was delivered at 650 ms but not at 400 ms after stimulus onset. The magnetic stimulation effect at 650 ms was larger for hands than for feet. These findings demonstrate that (i) activation of the left primary motor cortex has a causal role in the mental rotation of pictures of hands; (ii) this role is stimulus-specific because disruption of neural activity in the hand area slowed RTs for pictures of hands more than feet; and (iii) left primary motor cortex is involved relatively late in the mental rotation process.

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