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How do you move when you’re stressed?

For some of us, having a proper office set up may seem a distant memory. But today we’re talking about the good old computer mouse and how we might start mistreating her when things get a bit tense. We all know that work-related stress can have an impact on our general wellbeing. But is this stress measurable, possibly even noticeable to our colleagues at work? Again, being in an office and having actual people around us may seem a little surreal now, but let’s imagine that post pandemic we’re all back in the office and after the honeymoon phase is over, work stress starts to creep in again.

In their recent study, Nicolas Banholzer, Stefan Feuerriegel, Elgar Fleisch, Georg Friedrich Bauer, and Tobias Kowatsch were curious to find out if work stress may be linked to a change in how we use a computer mouse. How would experiencing stress change how fast or accurately we move the mouse? The authors based their hypothesis on previous research which found that stress causes “neuromotor noise”, which makes accurate movements more difficult. In an observational field study, the authors collected computer mouse movements and self-reported stress levels from 70 employees during their normal office work over the course of 7 weeks.

The results confirmed that when stress was reported, a speed-accuracy trade-off was more likely, meaning that the same speed would result in less accurate work than when not experiencing stress. The authors are open about the limitations of their study, including the fact that the level of stress could not be assessed, as well as that the findings being limited to acute rather than chronic stress. Nevertheless, the authors conclude that a computer mouse could be used to infer work stress, which may be an easy way to detect work stress early on. So when you’re back in the office, pay attention to those mouse clicks around you.

For further details, please watch the lead author’s video abstract below and refer to the full research article.

Reference:

Banholzer, N., Feuerriegel, S., Fleisch, E., Bauer, G., Kowatsch, T., Computer Mouse Movements as an Indicator of Work Stress: Longitudinal Observational Field Study, Journal of Medical Internet Research 23(4):e27121, 10.2196/27121.

Visual Abstract

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