Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Under appropriate conditions, an observer's memory for the final position of an abruptly halted moving object is distorted in the direction of the represented motion. This phenomenon is called “representational momentum” (RM). We examined the effect of mental imagery instructions on the modulation of spatial orientation processing by testing for RM under conditions of picture versus body rotation perception and imagination. Behavioral data were gathered via classical reaction time and error measurements, whereas brain activity was recorded with the help of magnetoence-phalography (MEG). Due to the so-called inverse problem and to signal complexity, results were described at the signal level rather than with the source location modeling. Brain magnetic field strength and spatial distribution, as well as latency of P200m evoked fields were used as neurocognitive markers. A task was devised where a subject examined a rotating sea horizon as seen from a virtual boat in order to extrapolate either the picture motion or the body motion relative to the picture while the latter disappeared temporarily until a test-view was displayed as a final orientation candidate. Results suggest that perceptual interpretation and extrapolation of visual motion in the roll plane capitalize on the fronto-parietal cortical networks involving working memory processes. Extrapolation of the rotational dynamics of sea horizon revealed a RM effect simulating the role of gravity in rotational equilibrium. Modulation of the P200m component reflected spatial orientation processing and a non-voluntary detection of an incongruity between displayed and expected final orientations given the implied motion. Neuromagnetic properties of anticipatory (Contingent Magnetic Variation) and evoked (P200m) brain magnetic fields suggest, respectively, differential allocation of attentional resources by mental imagery instructions (picture vs. body tilt), and a communality of neural structures (in the right centro-parietal region) for the control of both RM and mental rotation processes. Finally, the RM of the body motion is less prone to forward shifts than that of picture motion evidencing an internalization of the implied mass of the virtual body of the observer.