Variations in time schedule and video games affect mental rotation performance (Cherney, 2008)

For some unknown reasons, recently published journal articles that I am interested aren’t showing up in the databases or on the journal’s directory. One is from Psychology and Aging from Basak et al.’s study and another from the Journal of Psychiatric Research from the Center for Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Center‘s latest study. I tend to think that it might be my fault due to my blogging, but that’s a case of self-attribution bias. Anyways, this post relates to the Human Perception and Performance lab‘s latest article and this addresses on the question of whether cramming on a video game would have an effect on individuals’ mental rotation skills.


This study investigated how 3-D and 2-D computer game practice and delivery as well as individual differences affect performance on two tests of mental rotation (Vandenberg Mental Rotation Test and Card Rotation Test). Sixty-one US undergraduates from the Midwest completed 4 h of either massed or distributed practice. While computer game practice improved mental rotation scores in general, women’s gains were significantly greater than men’s, and the most significant gains were accomplished when practice was massed. High mathematical ability, gender, and type of practice significantly predicted improvement scores. The findings suggest that even very minimal computer game practice may improve performance on mental rotation tasks.

I’m getting used to my new laptop, but I do really hate Vista for being a memory hog, an annoying nag and having a pretty and useless appearance.

Cherney wrote the causes of the gender differences on visuospatial skills are unclear. She argued that, through the exposition of many studies, it might have been an environmental cause.  Mainly, that boys throughout their development are given plenty opportunities to practice their visuospatial skills (i.e. sports, toys, math classes, video games) and that girls are less likely to do the same since they view such activities as males-only. I’m not convinced, there might be a biological or an evolutionary factor in gender differences, but since the causes are unclear, I’ll just leave it at that. Anyways, Cherney chose the clearest and reliable cognitive ability that shows a gender difference:  the mental rotation task.

Massed vs. Distributed practice:  I guess “cramming” isn’t accurate from Cherney’s point of view. However, she do make a point that how time is spent on practicing video games on those cognitive test scores might reveal differences. There are two types of practice: massed (i.e. practice with little rest time) and distributed (i.e. breaks during practice). Generally, distributed practice gives the best results; this also includes studying for exams. However, I said generally because other studies have found the opposite. So, Cherney argues that the interaction between the nature of a task and time between practice sessions might be a factor on cognitive performance.

Lastly, Cherney added individual differences that could influence cognitive performance. Sometimes, I feel factors of interest mentioned near the end of the introduction section were added as an afterthought. Either that or reading more text is making me lose interest. Factors of interest that might influence cognitive performance, especially for mental rotation, are anxiety levels. Highly anxious individuals would perform worse than others. Mathematical abilities or quantitative abilities, high math scorers perform better than others. Prior spatial experience, those who practiced similar activities, such as sports and video games (include dance?), would perform better than others.


Participants: 64 undergraduates. Equal gender ratio, average age (19.1, SD = 1.4), mostly white. Some participants were excluded from analysis due to experimental errors.


I’m having a difficult time reading the measures section since it’s more verbose than usual, especially when 3 measures are mixed in the same paragraph and how the paragraphs are mixed up.

There are two measures for mental rotations:

Card Rotation Test: a 2D mental rotation test where participants watch a 2D object along with 8 other objects and respond whether each of those 8 are either rotated or a mirror image. The test is on paper, must be completed in 6 minutes and there are 20 target objects leading to 160 items.

Vandenberg and Kuse Mental Rotation Test: a 3D mental rotation test where participants watch 3D object along with 4 other objects (2 are identical to the target image, but rotated and 2 other are mirror images). Participants are to find which of those 4 objects are identical to the target object. The test is on paper, must be completed in 7 minutes and there are 20 target objects leading to 80 items.

Experience: asked questions about video game experience, math classes taken and sports experience (participation in sports). Mainly number of hours per week.

Mathematics measure: 6 math questions. (2 easy, 2 medium and 2 hard as assessed by math professors). Participants have 15 minutes to complete them.

State- and Trait-Anxiety Inventory: 20 items on how individuals feel at the moment, the “state” aspect. 20 items on how individuals generally feel or through life, the “trait” aspect.

Games used: Antz Extreme Racing for the 3D gameplay. Tetrus is a PC version of Tetris used for the 2D gameplay. Paper-based cross-word puzzles, Sudoku and other mind games are also for the control group.


Participants are randomly assigned to play either Antz, Tetrus or the paper-based games. They were also randomized to practice their games, either 1-week practice schedule or a 2+-week practice schedule (hey! Be more specific, I’m reading this article in the middle of the night and it’s not helping). Each practice schedule has the same total amount of practice time which is 4 hours. Participants are asked to complete the experience questionnaire and the math measure, they were given the mental rotations tests before playing as a pre-test measure and after the practice schedule as a post-test measure. Participants were asked not to play video games during the study.


Gender differences in mental rotation test: there were no gender difference in the Card Rotation test’s pre-test scores, but there is a large effect size difference on the 3D Mental Rotation test. This is also included experience with video games, math and sports as control variables. Looking at post-test scores and combining the two rotations scores, women have gained larger improvement than men that both gender’s scores are statistically equivalent.

Type of game used: looking at the difference effects between the 3D vs. 2D vs. control games on the two mental rotation tests. Starting with the Card Rotation test, all three groups and both gender have significantly improved scores from pre-test to post-test. It appears that there are no differences between groups or gender. The 3D Mental Rotation test, however, have gender differences in that women’ scores improved when they played either the 2D or 3D game, but not men.

Practice schedule: Looking at the difference between massed and distributed. There were main effects, but no interaction in that women improved significantly than men, and those in massed practice improved significantly better than those in the distributed practice. No interaction effects were found.

Individual differences: looking at anxiety levels, math experience, math skills, video game experience and sports experience. The only statistical significance was found when the top and bottom end of the math skills were considered. So the middle group were excluded from the analysis. Only among the high math skills, gender and playing 3D games were predictive of performance, which one? The author doesn’t tell. I would not count these individuals differences out since the measures are not thorough enough, except for anxiety.

All of this seems good, but where are the analyses that considered all of that together? Where are they?! Sorry, I’m writing this in the middle of the night…


It seems that women are benefiting improvement in catching up men’s mental rotation skills. But IMO, there is a limitation to consider. Men in the sample had higher video game experience and had higher scores than women and showed little or no improvement in mental rotation skills after following the experiment’s gaming schedule. It is possible that there’s a ceiling effect for the men since they’re already benefiting the video game effects. Whereas for women who had lower video game experience, would not experience such ceiling effect. In fact, after 4 hours of play in a week, they’ve caught up with the men. Despite that there were no significant results from the analysis in regards to video game experience, I believe there are confounds, but what kinds? Maybe gender and VG experience are highly tied together that the analysis can’t make heads or tails? Or is it something else?

A suggestion is to reanalyze video game experience by focusing on participants who played around the 4 hours per week vs. 0 hours per week with the pre-test mental rotation scores as the dependent variable. 4 hours because it seems that’s what needed for participants to benefit in their scores. Additionally, we should have a matched sample group, so participants with equivalent video game experience and do the experiment again.

Another limitation is the gaming schedule. Looking at distributed practice, participants in that group played less than 4 hours per week which puts them at a disadvantage. IMO Taking ideas from physical exercise, you need to exercise your brain for a minimum number of hours per week to benefit from video game exercise or it would be a waste of time. The minimum number of hours is uncertain, however, looking at the available relevant articles. The literature is also mixed, especially Boot et al.’s study which has thrown my head into confusion.

Cherney noted some limitations in her study: small sample size, the 3D game being simplistic, the reliance on self-reports on spatial experiences, the unclear benefit from massed practice over distributed practice, and no pure control group (i.e. those that did not do any gaming).

IMO, the study’s contribution is about how time is used to play video games and how it affects individuals’ mental rotation skills. Again, more research is needed how game play time can benefit us. A little aside, I don’t like the article title since it alludes to children when the sample is young adults.

Cherney, I. D. (2008) Mom, let me play more computer games: They improve my mental rotation skills. Sex Roles, 59 (11-12), 776-786.


4 thoughts on “Variations in time schedule and video games affect mental rotation performance (Cherney, 2008)

  1. Wow! Thank you! I always wanted to write in my site something like that. Can I take part of your post to my blog?

  2. hi there
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  3. You you should edit the page subject Variations in time schedule and video games affect mental rotation performance (Cherney, 2008) VG Researcher to more specific for your content you create. I liked the post however.

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