Visual information processing in the lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus): mental rotation or rotational invariance?


Mental rotation is a widely accepted concept indicating an image-like mental representation of visual information and an analogue mode of information processing in certain visuospatial tasks. In the task of discriminating between image and mirror-image of rotated figures, human reaction times increase with the angular disparity between the figures. In animals, tests of this kind yield inconsistent results. Pigeons were found to use a time-independent rotational invariance, possibly indicating a non-analogue information processing system that evolved in response to the horizontal plane of reference birds perceive during flight. Despite similar ecological demands concerning the visual reference plane, a sea lion was found to use mental rotation in similar tasks, but its processing speed while rotating three-dimensional stimuli seemed to depend on the axis of rotation in a different way than found for humans in similar tasks. If ecological demands influence the way information processing systems evolve, hominids might have secondarily lost the ability of rotational invariance while retreating from arboreal living and evolving an upright gait in which the vertical reference plane is more important. We therefore conducted mental rotation experiments with an arboreal living primate species, the lion-tailed macaque. Performing a two-alternative matching-to-sample procedure, the animal had to decide between rotated figures representing image and mirror-image of a previously shown upright sample. Although non-rotated stimuli were recognized faster than rotated ones, the animal's mean reaction times did not clearly increase with the angle of rotation. These results are inconsistent with the mental rotation concept but also cannot be explained assuming a mere rotational invariance. Our study thus seems to support the idea of information processing systems evolving gradually in response to specific ecological demands.

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@article{Burmann2005VisualIP, title={Visual information processing in the lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus): mental rotation or rotational invariance?}, author={Britta Burmann and Guido Dehnhardt and Bjoern Mauck}, journal={Brain, behavior and evolution}, year={2005}, volume={65 3}, pages={168-76} }