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60-Second Mind

How Computers Affect Our Movements

Computer-use affects the brain's ability to generalize the skill of moving a mouse. Christie Nicholson reports

For most people, learning to use a computer mouse comes quickly. Our brains match hand movements with the cursor on the screen. Now we know that this connection can be easily generalized to other kinds of computers and mouse movement—like how some saxophone players can switch seamlessly to a clarinet.

Scientists had seasoned computer users and novices move a cursor while their hand was hidden from view. Experienced users quickly generalized what they learned about the cursor’s movement to perform other kinds of functions with that cursor. Novices took longer to catch on. Not too surprising.

But then the researchers had a second group of novices use a mouse to play a video game for two hours a day. In just two weeks they were able to generalize their mouse skills to rival experienced computer users. For instance they could control other mouse types, and do it on different Macs and PCs, with different kinds of screens. The study is in the journal Current Biology.

The researchers say this study shows how using a mouse can affect the neural representation of our movements, and how natural it can feel. Apparently, our long history of tool use comes in…handy.

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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