Spatial Skills First: The Importance of Mental Rotation for Arithmetic Skill Acquisition

Carrie Georges, Véronique Cornu, Christine Schiltz


Considering the importance of arithmetic in school curricula, it is crucial to understand the cognitive processes underlying its successful acquisition. Previous research suggests the involvement of spatial skills, especially during arithmetic skill acquisition. We assessed the predictive effect of mental rotation on different arithmetic components in children halfway through elementary school. At this stage, additions and subtractions are already well mastered, while multiplications and divisions are newly acquired. Although mental rotation positively correlated with arithmetic performances regardless of operation, only multiplication, division and completion performances were significantly predicted by mental rotation when controlling for age, gender as well as domain-specific symbolic number skills and visuospatial short-term memory. This highlights the differential effects of mental rotation on arithmetic and suggests a particular importance for newly acquired arithmetic material. These findings extend previous research on the relation between spatial skills and arithmetic and yield practical information for mathematical education and instruction.


spatial skills; mental rotation; arithmetic; learning; elementary school

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Copyright (c) 2019 Georges; Cornu; Schiltz