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An important question concerning visual object recognition is whether spatial transformation processes such as mental rotation are used to recognize objects that are rotated into non-upright orientations.  Similar viewpoint effects are often observed behaviorally in mental rotation and rotated object recognition tasks (e.g. longer response times as objects are rotated farther from upright), suggesting overlap between the two.  This possibility has been challenged, however, by neuroimaging studies showing different patterns of brain activity in each case.  While previous neuroimaging studies have partially differentiated the brain areas involved in mental rotation and rotated object recognition, no studies to date have looked at whether both processes are subject to the same sex-steroid influences.  More specifically, extensive research suggests that mental rotation performance differs over the course of the menstrual cycle, with better performance during the menstrual (when estradiol and progesterone levels are relatively low) relative to the midluteal phase (when estradiol and progesterone levels are relatively high).  It is unknown, however, whether similar effects occur for rotated object recognition.  In this study, female participants performed mental rotation and rotated object recognition tasks during the menstrual and midluteal phases of their menstrual cycle.  Results showed that menstrual cycle effects on mental rotation (e.g., better performance during the menstrual relative to the midluteal phase) did not correlate with performance changes during rotated object recognition.  These findings complement previous neuroimaging studies, and suggest that mental rotation and rotated object recognition not only rely on distinct brain areas, but are also differentially influenced by sex hormones.

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