A little finger wagging goes a long way in neuroscience. It has led Franz Mechsner and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute of Psychological Research, Munich, Germany, to conclude that it is the sight, not the feel, of our fingers moving that makes wagging with mirror symmetry more stable than wagging in parallel (Nature, Vol. 414, No. 6859, pp. 69-73, 01 Nov 2001). Previously it was thought that this phenomenon arose because moving matching muscles is easier.
Mechsner's team had volunteers move their forefingers from side to side to a beat with both palms down or with one up and one down. In another experiment volunteers tapped two fingers (like playing the piano). In a third they moved both hands in circles. Contrary to prevailing wisdom, they find that "the symmetry tendency in bimanual movements is independent of muscular and motor constraint and is thus purely perceptual in nature".
"It may be this kind of movement organization that makes the richness and complexity of human voluntary movements possible, be it in sports and dance, skilful tool use, or language," they conclude in this week’s Nature.
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