New brain research shows that when we use a tool, the mind's map of our body changes to include the tool as "part of our body."
Although by no means the definitive word on the subject, research recently published in the journal Current Biology may help us better understand how tool use in humans really "works." Metaphorically, we often describe tools as "extensions of our body" but the new findings show us that may also be literally true in terms of how the mind perceives the tools.
The experiments involved having people use a tool to grab an object (see the video below) then try to grab the same object without the tool. Longer response times without the tool may show that the user had to reprogram their perception of their "body map" to account for a shorter "arm length" without the tool.
Possible applications of this idea, if it indeed holds up to further testing, include ergonomic design of tools, occupational safety, physical and occupational therapy, and athletics.
Want to know more?
Tool use alters brain's map of body
TheScientist.com 22 June 2009
[Summary article describing the research and its implications.]
Tool-use induces morphological updating of the body schemaVideo showing the tool use explored by researchers:
Lucilla Cardinali et al.
Current Biology Volume 19, Issue 12, R478-R479, 23 June 2009
[FREE abstract of the original research article]