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The fingers on the outside i.e. the thumb and little finger - therefore react faster than the middle finger, which is exposed to the "cross fire" of two neighbours on each side. Through targeted learning, this speed handicap can be compensated. The working group led by PD Dr. Hubert Dinse (Neural Plasticity Lab at the Institute for Neuroral Computation) report in the current issue of PNAS.
Thumb and little finger are the quickest
The researchers set subjects a simple task to measure the speed of decision: they showed them an image on a monitor that represented all ten fingers. If one of the fingers was marked, the subjects were to press a corresponding key as quickly as possible with that finger. The thumb and little finger were the fastest. The middle finger brought up the rear. "You might think that this has anatomical reasons or depends on the exercise" said Dr Dinse, "but we were able to rule that out through further tests. In principle, each finger is able to react equally quickly. Only in the selection task, the middle finger is at a distinct disadvantage."
Computer simulation depicts brain maps
To explain their observations, the researchers used computer simulations based on a so-called mean-field model. It is especially suited for modelling large neuronal networks in the brain. For these simulations, each individual finger is represented by a group of nerve cells, which are arranged in the form of a topographic map of the fingers based on the actual conditions in the somatosensory cortex of the brain. "Adjacent fingers are adjacent in the brain too, and thus also in the simulation", explained Dr. Dinse. The communication of the nerve cells amongst themselves is organised so that the nerve cells interact through mutual excitation and inhibition.
|Contact: Dr. Hubert Dinse|