Research Finds Clicking The Mouse Changes The Way We Learn
December 20, 2013

Research Finds Clicking The Mouse Changes The Way We Learn

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

The average computer user performs a staggering 7,400 mouse clicks per week, and individuals who are regular computer users are constantly mapping the movements of their hand and computer mouse to the cursor on the screen. A new study, published in Current Biology, reveals that all the pointing and clicking changes the way the brain generalizes movements.

"Computers produce this problem that screens are of different sizes and mice have different gains," says Konrad Körding, 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 generalization, then you need to move the mouse just once, and there you are calibrated."

The study focused on Chinese migrant workers. They found that workers accustomed to using computers made broader generalizations when it comes to movement learning, compared to a group of age- and education-matched migrant workers who had never used a computer before. While both groups learned how to move a cursor while their hand was hidden from view equally quickly, computer-experienced individuals were able to more readily generalize what they learned about movement of the cursor in one direction to movements made in other directions.

The research team examined 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 two hours a day, to understand the difference observed in the first groups. The scientists found that two weeks of experience was enough to convert the generalization patterns of those computer-naive individuals to that of regular computer users.

Our lifestyles are changed by computer use, the study shows. Such use also fundamentally affects the neural representation of our movements. The research team said that their findings might have real world implications for people undergoing physical rehabilitation in the clinic.

"Our data revealed that generalization has to be learned, and we should not expect it to happen automatically," says Kunlin Wei, from China's Peking University. "The big question in the clinic setting is whether supervised rehabilitation can lead to functional improvement at home. Thus, the next natural step for us is to experiment on how to make this generalization from clinics to home happen more effectively."

"If we could make patients generalize perfectly from robotic training in the hospital to drinking tea at home, then training in the hospital would maximally improve everyday life," Kording adds.