Computer game speed and accuracy increase with a young child’s age; however, the age factor is less relevant than practice when it comes to being skilled with a computer mouse, according to new research.
“Learning how to use a computer has become as important as writing and reading in the classroom,” said Dr. Alison Lane, an assistant professor of occupational therapy at Ohio State University.
“Since the frequency of computer mouse use is as important as age, it might be beneficial to introduce children to the computer at a young age so that they can slowly develop skills over years of practice,” said Lane.
Along with colleague Dr. Jenny Ziviani of the University of Queensland, Lane observed the computer mouse skills of 221 Australian children (ages 5 to 10 years).
“We wanted to examine the influence of previous experience on children’s mouse competence,” Lane said.
The children were tested on mouse subset skills, including pointing and clicking, dragging, and pursuit tracking.
In one of these tests, called Chipmunk Fun, the children needed to click on as many chipmunk faces as they could within a 20-second time frame. This was repeated six times, with the size and location of the targets changing each time.
“The way children approached the game seemed to depend on their age,” said Lane.
“The older children were more interested in the goal of the game, which was speed, whereas the younger children focused on the nature of finding the target and clicking the chipmunk’s face as opposed to clicking as many as possible,” she said.
The results reveal that certain gaming characteristics are age-dependent, such as the children’s approach to the game as well as the speed and accuracy with which they played. However, the researchers discovered that the child’s frequency of computer mouse use was critical in determining their skill level.
Separate research has found that younger children require more practice time to match the same mouse movement skills as older children. In fact, it was found that children ages 6 to 8 years old required more than twice the amount of practice as their 10-year-old peers.
The research team observed the biggest jumps in computer-mouse accuracy and speed between ages 6 and 7 and between ages 8 and 9. At ages 9 to 10, performance seemed to plateau.
Previous research shows that children’s reaction times tend to increase around age 6 or 7 and that enhanced spatial accuracy and speed develops around age 8.
“The improvements in speed and accuracy at these ages are most likely due to the children’s motor skill development,” said Lane.
Interestingly, although older children were faster and more accurate, the younger children had smoother mouse motions. The team found this surprising as they expected smoothness to correlate with accuracy and speed.
In fact, smoothness continued to decrease as the children grew older. Perhaps this is due to an older child’s competitive nature, suggests Lane, and fluidity may be getting sacrificed for speed.
Girls were mildly better at smooth mouse control than boys, and there were no significant differences between girls and boys in terms of speed and accuracy.
Finally, Lane said that children needed to practice at least once a week or more with a mouse to show the best gains in terms of accuracy, speed and minimization of errors.
“We need more study to determine the optimal duration and content of practice sessions for children at different development stages,” she said. “But practice definitely helps with speed and accuracy.”
The results appear in the journal Computers & Education.
Source: Ohio State University