Mental rotation and object categorization share a common network of prefrontal and dorsal and ventral regions of posterior cortex.
The multiple-views-plus-transformation variant of object model verification theories predicts that parietal regions that are critical for mental rotation contribute to visual object cognition. Some neuroimaging studies have shown that the intraparietal sulcus region is critically involved in mental rotation. Other studies indicate that both ventral and dorsal posterior regions are object-sensitive and involved in object perception and categorization tasks. However, it is unknown whether dorsal object-sensitive areas overlap with regions recruited for object mental rotation. Functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to test this directly. Participants performed standard tasks of object categorization, mental rotation, and eye movements. Results provided clear support for the prediction, demonstrating overlap between dorsal object-sensitive regions in ventral-caudal intraparietal sulcus (vcIPS) and an adjacent dorsal occipital area and the regions that are activated during mental rotation but not during saccades. In addition, object mental rotation (but not saccades) activated object-sensitive areas in lateral dorsal occipitotemporal cortex (DOT), and both mental rotation and object categorization recruited ventrolateral prefrontal cortex areas implicated in attention, working memory, and cognitive control. These findings provide clear evidence that a prefrontal-posterior cortical system implicated in mental rotation, including the occipitoparietal regions critical for this spatial task, is recruited during visual object categorization. Altogether, the findings provide a key link in understanding the role of dorsal and ventral visual areas in spatial and object perception and cognition: Regions in occipitoparietal cortex, as well as DOT cortex, have a general role in visual object cognition, supporting not only mental rotation but also categorization.