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Computer Usage Changes The Way The Brain Generalizes Movements

By Samantha Goodwin | Dec 21, 2013 05:22 AM EST

Computers
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Researchers of Northwestern University found that regular computer usage can change the way the brain generalizes movements.

While using a computer the brain is constantly mapping the movements of the user's hands and computer mouse and the cursor. However, prolonged computer usage can change the way the brain generalizes movements, according to a press statement.

"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 in a press statement. "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."

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Researchers found that though both computer users and non-users quickly learned how to move a cursor while their hand was hidden from view, but computer-experienced individuals more readily generalized what they learned about movement of the cursor in one direction to movements made in other directions.

To understand the mechanism behind this, researchers studied a 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. Researchers found that these two weeks were enough to make these computer-naïve participants use generalization patterns of regular computer users.

"Our data revealed that generalization 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 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."

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