Updated on  February 22, 2024
7 min read

What Is Hand-Eye Coordination?

9 sources cited
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Hand-eye coordination is an essential perceptual-motor skill developed from birth into adulthood. This coordination is vital in completing certain activities, especially those needing high precision. People with poor hand-eye coordination tend to be clumsy, inaccurate, or with messy handwriting. 

In this article, we’ll explain in detail what eye-hand coordination is, including its benefits in daily life and how to improve it.

Hand-eye coordination, or eye-hand coordination, is the ability of the eyes and hands to work together to accomplish a task. Your brain can process and coordinate the visual input from the eye’s retina and use it to guide your hands.

Research on anticipatory control of hand and eye movements shows that hand movements can result in smooth eye movements.1 Hand-eye coordination skills are key to maintaining your physical independence.

The brain plays a crucial part in hand-eye coordination. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that coordinates eye and hand movements.2 It also coordinates muscular activity in other voluntary movements such as posture, balance, and speech. 

Is There a Difference Between Hand-Eye Coordination and Eye-Hand Coordination?

No. Eye-hand and hand-eye coordination refers to the same thing. They’re the coordinated motor control of the eyes and hands to reach, grasp, or manipulate objects. Most people say “hand-eye coordination,” but it’s okay to use either. 

The Benefits of Good Hand-Eye Coordination

Good hand-eye coordination is an essential skill in the success of everyday tasks. Benefits of hand-eye coordination include:

  • Enhanced sporting ability. People with good hand-eye coordination can process visual information quickly and effectively, resulting in better reaction time and enhanced athleticism.
  • Enhanced academic ability. Good coordination is essential for writing and copying letters and numbers on different surfaces. 
  • Physical independence. People with good hand-eye coordination can independently complete self-care tasks such as dressing, eating meals, tying shoelaces, or driving.
  • Improved mood/sense of success. Children often feel happy when they succeed in tasks that require the hands and eyes to coordinate, such as catching a ball in a game or completing a class activity successfully.
  • Medical success and safety. Medical professionals like surgeons rely on excellent hand-eye coordination for complex medical procedures.

Hand-eye coordination is essential in early childhood development and learning. We encourage parents to create opportunities for their kids to learn motor skills by exposing them to environments set up for learning.

Children in a restrictive environment have fewer opportunities to learn these visual skills. According to research, children who develop good eye-hand coordination have many advantages at home, school, and later in life.

Types of Hand-Eye Coordination

There are three types of hand coordination (bilateral coordination): 

  • Symmetrical coordination. Requires both hands to work in sync to accomplish a task, e.g., clapping.
  • Reciprocal coordination. Requires both hands to work in an alternating manner. One hand performs an action that is repeated by the second hand. An example is swimming.
  • Leading and supporting movements. Both hands are needed to complete a task, each carrying a different responsibility. For example, when writing/ drawing, one hand holds the pen while the other holds the paper.

How to Improve Hand-Eye Coordination

Eye-hand coordination declines as we age because of vision loss, declining health, or brain changes.4 However, it’s possible to improve visual stimuli and hand coordination through the following ways:

Physical Activity/Exercise

Exercise is good for your brain function and is the best strategy for improving hand-eye coordination. The following exercise programs can help you improve your hand-eye motor skills:

  • Playing catch. Playing catch with a friend can also be a great way to improve your eye-hand coordination. Give your eyes, brain, and hands a challenge by using several balls at once or coloring/numbering each one.
  • Swimming. It trains the brain to use its inner eye to coordinate the hands. This enhances hand and visual system coordination and more accurate repetitive movements.5 
  • Martial arts. For example, Tai Chi, an ancient Chinese martial art, involves a series of slow, flowing motions and focus, which can gradually improve your muscle reflexes, range of motion, and balance.
  • Non Contact boxing. Shadowboxing can challenge your brain as you interchangeably aim and hit a soft pad with your right and left hand.
  • Gardening. Gardening forces your eyes to see, your brain to think, and your hands to perform in ways that develop coordination and general motor skills. 

Treating Underlying Conditions

Lack of coordination (ataxia) usually results from damage to the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls muscle coordination. Treating or managing underlying conditions affecting coordination is a great way to improve hand-eye coordination. Conditions may include:6

  • Brain degeneration
  • Stroke
  • Tumor
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Arthritis
  • Some genetic disorders, such as Friedreich’s ataxia or Wilson’s disease.

Visit your doctor if you have any concerns about coordination. They will diagnose any vision problems and recommend medication for your specific condition.

Lifestyle Changes

Exposure to drugs and alcohol can negatively affect your coordination scores.7 Such a lifestyle can expose you to danger, especially in scenarios requiring great attention and coordination, like driving or operating machinery.

We also recommend eating foods that promote cognitive health and decrease the risk of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Examples of nutrients needed for hand-eye coordination include:

  • Vitamin K (green leafy vegetables, soybeans, etc.)
  • Lutein (kale, spinach, corn, eggs, etc).
  • Omega 3 fatty acids (salmon, nuts, seeds, etc.)
  • Folate (hemp seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds, etc.)
  • Beta carotene (yellow, orange, and green leafy fruits and vegetables)

Occupational therapists can help you customize activities and programs to meet your coordination needs if you need assistance improving your hand-eye coordination.

Examples of Hand-Eye Coordination

Two teenager friends playing table tennis or pingpong outdoors in a sunny day

Think of any activity that requires your visual attention for the hands to accomplish. Such a task would require your hands and eyes to work together. Below are some practical examples of eye-hand coordination:

Playing Video Games

The best video game players can spot targets’ positions and, at the same time, coordinate their hands to take almost immediate action (like shooting). Slower hand-eye coordination will result in more failures.

Video games like Call of Duty, Fortnite, and World of Warcraft require great hand and motor skills.

Playing Sports

Sports require good gross motor skills. These include:

  • Baseball
  • Football
  • Basketball
  • Tennis
  • Auto racing

The greatest sports stars have excellent hand-eye coordination skills. For example, the quick hands and eyes of Tom Brady, Venus Williams, Floyd Mayweather, and Lebron James make them stand out among their peers.

Sewing or Knitting

When sewing or knitting, you need great visual focus and hand coordination to create the patterns and shapes you want.

Other Examples of Hand-Eye Coordination

Other activities that require hand-eye coordination include:

  • Bouncing a ball against a wall
  • Eating with utensils
  • Typing on a computer
  • Playing darts
  • Painting or drawing
  • Threading beads
  • Cutting along a line
  • Writing letters and numbers

The level of hand-eye coordination may depend on the complexity of the task. For example, catching a tiny object flying at you would be challenging unless you have excellent hand-eye coordination, but washing your hands with your eyes closed would be easier.

Your brain also acts as your inner eye in some activities.3 For example, when swimming, you close your eyes, but your mind’s eye visualizes what your hands are doing without seeing them. The sensory input in the water challenges the brain to function this way.

Common Questions About Hand-Eye Coordination

Below are common questions people ask about hand-eye coordination:

At what age does hand-eye coordination develop?

Most people also think that eye-hand coordination begins after birth, but research shows hand-eye coordination begins in the embryonic stage (in the womb).8 However, it becomes better after birth and into adulthood.

Can you measure and assess hand-eye coordination? 

Yes. You can measure hand-eye coordination by aiming, throwing, catching, or bouncing a ball. Coordination plays an important role in the performance of agility and other fitness tests.

Can hand-eye coordination be taught?

Although hand-eye coordination is a skill you’re born with, it can also be taught. Sports are one of the best ways to teach hand-eye coordination. Examples of sports activities include a game of catch, swimming, martial arts, etc.

Must hand-eye coordination occur simultaneously?

It’s not unusual for the eyes not to coordinate simultaneously. In some cases, eye movements may come before hand movements.9 This is common in actions requiring a two-stage decision-making process (where you’re presented with several options in your visual field). 

Summary

  • Hand-eye coordination, or eye-hand coordination, is the ability of the eyes and hands to work together to accomplish a task. 
  • The brain plays a crucial part in hand-eye coordination. The cerebellum is involved in coordinating eye and hand movements. 
  • Hand-eye coordination can be affected by brain injury or age.
  • Exercises that involve hands, such as swimming, boxing, etc., are the best strategy for improving hand-eye coordination.
  • Seek medical assistance if you have coordination concerns. An occupational therapist can help you customize activities and programs to meet your coordination needs.
Updated on  February 22, 2024
9 sources cited
Updated on  February 22, 2024
  1. Barnes and Marsden. “Anticipatory control of hand and eye movements in humans during oculo-manual tracking.” The Journal of Physiology, 2022.
  2. Miall et al.“The cerebellum coordinates eye and hand tracking movements.” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 2001.
  3. Activities to sharpen your eye‑hand coordination.”  Harvard Medical School (HMS), 2021. 
  4. Guan, J., and Wade, M.G. “The Effect of Aging on Adaptive Eye-Hand Coordination.” The Journals of Gerontology, 2000.
  5. HSU et al. “Effects of swimming on eye hand coordination and balance in the elderly.” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 2010.
  6. Coordination Disorders.” Merck Manual, 2022.
  7. Roizenblatt et al. “Effect of chronic cocaine use on fine motor coordination tested during ophthalmic vitreoretinal simulated performance.” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 2021.
  8. Fetal Origin of Sensorimotor Behavior.” Frontiers, 2018.
  9. Fooken, J., and Spering, M. “Eye movements as a readout of sensorimotor decision processes.” American Physiological Society, 2020.
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