We all know the saying, “practice makes perfect.” But new research suggests that a skill can benefit from even greater improvement if a person is practicing it with a partner. This is according to a study recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The research team from Imperial College London in the UK, alongside two institutions in Japan, says their findings may be able to help patients in rehabilitation after suffering a stroke.

The investigators conducted a series of experimental sessions with 68 volunteers.

Participants were required to operate a robotic device similar to a joystick in order to move a cursor in an attempt to track a moving target on a computer screen.

In some experiments, the participants carried out this task on their own. However, in other experiments, the participants were connected to the hands of a partner who was operating a similar device using a “virtual elastic band.”

Although the participants were physically connected to a partner and could feel the force of their movements during the experiments, they were not consciously aware that they were connected to a partner.

According to the researchers, the sequence of the tasks was established in advance, although the subjects did not know this.

The researchers found that every time a participant was working with a partner during a task, they achieved better results than when on their own, even though the majority of subjects were unaware they were working with a partner.

Furthermore, the investigators found that when participants were carrying out a task with a partner, the greatest improvements in performance were seen when both partners were at similar levels.

Commenting on the findings, Dr. Etienne Burdet, of the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London, says:

They say it takes two to tango and it seems that for physical tasks, practising with a partner really does improve performance.

Our study is helping us to understand how touch plays a vital and very subtle role in helping people to transmit information to one another. This was the case in our study even when people couldn’t see their partner or feel their partner’s skin.”

The investigators say they are interested in how their findings may help aid individuals in rehabilitation, such as patients recovering from a stroke.

They explain that robotic devices, such as the one used in this study, are being used more frequently in rehabilitation and physiotherapy, and that if these devices could react to patients in a similar way to humans, this could improve treatment.

Atsushi Takagi, of the Department of Engineering at Imperial College London and co-author of the study, says:

“Humans are intensely social creatures and it is no surprise that we’ve developed non-verbal communication techniques to help us improve the way we carry out tasks. Touch is an essential tool in our communication arsenal.”

It’s fascinating that this kind of communication can be so powerful even when people can’t see each other. Excitingly, getting robotic devices to mimic this process could help people make bigger improvements when they are carrying out exercises in rehabilitation.”

Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that a loving touch may sustain a healthy sense of self.