Computers Change the Way Your Brain Generalizes Movements

First Posted: Dec 23, 2013 09:52 AM EST

Do you use a computer? Then you might just think differently than your less technologically savvy peers. Scientists have discovered that using computers regularly can change the way the brain generalizes movements.

When we use computers, we constantly map the movements of our hands and computer mouse to the cursor on the screen. In fact, the average computer user performs an impressive 7,400 clicks per week. In order to find out whether or not this changes the way we think, researchers took a closer look.

"Computers produce this problem that screens are of different sizes and mice have different gains," said Konrad Kording, one of the researchers, in a news release. "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 generalization, then you need to move the mouse just once, and then you are calibrated."

In fact, researchers found that Chinese migrant workers accustomed to using computers made broader generalizations when it comes to movement learning when compared to a group of age- and education-matched migrant workers who had never used computers before. While both users and non-users learned equally quickly how to move a cursor while their hands were hidden from view, computer-experienced individuals more readily generalized what they learned about movement of the cursor in one direction to movements made in other directions.

The scientists then examined another group of 10 people who were unfamiliar with computers. These volunteers were examined before and after they spent two weeks playing computer games that required intensive mouse use for two hours per day. After two weeks, the researchers found that the generalization patterns of these computer-naïve individuals were converted to that of regular computer users.

The findings reveal that computer use not only changes our lifestyle, but also impacts the neural representation of our movements. This has important implications for patients undergoing physical rehabilitation.

The findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

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