Study co-authors Dr. Etienne Burdet and Atsushi Takagi, a Ph.D. student, both of Imperial College London, and colleagues at National Institute of Information and Communications Technology and ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories, both in Japan, said the research could ultimately help people rehabilitating from a stroke or those practicing sports or other physical activities.
The scientists studied if physical interaction improved during a computer-based task where they were using a joystick-like device. They were connected by a virtual elastic band to the same type of device operated by another person, who was hidden from view.
Most of the participants were unaware that they were working with a partner, but in spite of this they subconsciously used information transmitted through their partner's touch to enhance their performance. The study participants achieved noticeably better results in the task when working with a partner than they did working on their own, the study said.
"They say it takes two to tango and it seems that for physical tasks, practicing with a partner really does improve performance," Burdet said in a statement.
"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 study, published in Scientific Reports, found when one person was physically connected to a partner when learning a task, they consistently improved their performance regardless of how well their partner performed.