People who use computers regularly are constantly mapping the movements of their hand and computer mouse to the cursor on the screen.
Now, researchers have shown that all that pointing and clicking - the average computer user performs an impressive 7,400 mouse clicks per week - changes the way the brain generalises movements.
“Computers produce this problem that screens are of different sizes and mice have different gains,” said Konrad Kording of Northwestern University and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. “We want to quickly learn about these so that we do not need to relearn all possible movements once we switch to a new computer. If you have broad generalisation, then you need to move the mouse just once, and there you are calibrated,” said Kording.
Research found that Chinese migrant workers accustomed to using computers made broader generalisations when it comes to movement learning than a group of age- and education-matched migrant workers who had never used a computer before. While both computer users and non-users learned equally quickly how to move a cursor while their hand was hidden from view, computer-experienced individuals more readily generalised what they learned about movement of the cursor in one direction to movements made in other directions. To get to the bottom of that difference, the researchers studied another group of 10 people unfamiliar with computers both before and after they spent 2 weeks playing computer games that required intensive mouse use for 2 hours each day.
That two weeks of experience was enough to convert the generalisation patterns of those computer-naive individuals to that of regular computer users, the researchers said.
The findings show that computer use not only changes our lifestyle but also fundamentally affects the neural representation of our movements, the researchers said.
This new understanding of movement learning might have important real-world implications for people undergoing physical rehabilitation in the clinic.
“Our data revealed that generalisation has to be learned, and we should not expect it to happen automatically,” said study first author Kunlin Wei from China’s Peking University. The study was published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.