Does Experience with Physics Concepts Improve Mental Rotation Performance?


STEM disciplines have been shown to positively impact an individual’s visuospatial skills (Kozhevnikov, 1999). The current study examines improvement in spatial thinking in physics undergraduate students over the course of a semester. Students completed the Shepard and Metzler (1971) task at two time points– beginning and end of a semester – where they were asked to determine if two 3D figures were a match or mirror-images of each other. A Tobii X60 eye-tracker was used to record eye movement as an indirect measure of cognitive strategy selection. Preliminary analysis show a significant improvement in mental rotation performance from time point 1 (M=31.867, SD=5.027) to time point 2 (M=35.333, SD=3.885) t(14)=-3.014, p=.009. A latent profile analysis will be used to model cognitive strategies selected at time points 1 and 2 and analyzed for sex differences. The findings of this study are important for understanding the underrepresentation of women in STEM.

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