Computers and the Human Body: Ergonomics
A Short Quiz
Good ergonomics help prevent the visual and body postural stress that using a computer can cause. Computer workspaces (and playspaces) also need to be optimized to break up the cycle of eyestrain and muscle maladaptions that characterize computer vision syndrome. (Please see our article titled “Computer Vision Syndrome: Children and Teens.”)
Test your knowledge of how computers should be set up for children and teenagers at home and at school. Answers and explanations are located at the end of the test.
1. The photo below demonstrates a child using a computer at a table. (Choose the true statements.):
(a) This child’s computer space is similar to many commonly seen in the home.
(b) This child is using a computer space intended for an adult.
(c) The mouse is too far away.
(d) The keyboard is too far away.
(e) His head and neck are in good alignment.
(f) The child’s elbows should not be on the table.
2. Eating or snacking at the computer is 'not' recommended because (Choose the true statements.):
(a) It encourages children to concentrate on the computer for too long at a time.
(b) The child will spoil his dinner.
(c) Playing computer games is more important than eating.
(d) Completing his schoolwork is more important than eating.
(e) Family interaction at the dinner table is more important than computer use.
(f) Crumbs in the keyboard and sticky fingers on the mouse should be avoided.
(g) The child will feed his dinner to the family dog under the table.
3. This little girl is having fun at her computer, but something is wrong. What is it?
(a) She’s having too much fun.
(b) Her computer is PINK!
(c) She’s wearing socks.
(d) Her pigtails are too high.
(e) Her outfit clashes with the computer.
(f) She’s lying on the floor.
(g) She should have a snack.
4. This young man is absorbed in his computer. What needs to be changed about his posture? (Choose the true statements)
(a) He looks comfortable, leave him alone.
(b) His head is balanced on his hand, and should be left alone.
(c) His right wrist is flat on the table and should be bent upwards.
(d) His left wrist is bent backwards to support his head, and should be straight.
(e) His neck is twisted, but no change is needed.
(f) His head is angled upwards from his neck, but no change is needed.
(g) His entire posture is incorrect, and should be changed to sitting upright.
5. These children are using a computer lab at their school. What changes should be made?
(a) The monitors should be moved up.
(b) The monitors should be moved farther away.
(c) The keyboards should be moved closer to the children.
(d) The tables should be lowered.
(e) The chairs should be shortened.
(f) The students should be sitting higher.
(g) The light is too bright and should be dimmed.
6. Computer use by children and teens should be monitored by parents because: (choose the true statements)
(a) They may spend too many hours using the computer
(b) They may spend too few hours using the computer
(c) They may have questions about their homework.
(d) They might order contact lenses from an online supplier.
(e) Frequent breaks are needed to help preserve vision.
(f) No breaks to relax and stretch are needed, they should keep working.
(g) The computer may be overused and be damaged by heat.
7. Choose the true statement(s):
(a) Laptop computers are better for students because they can be set up in a variety of different ways.
(b) Desktop PCs are better than laptops because they are easy to modify for the use of small children.
(c) Myopia (nearsightedness) has been shown by research to be caused by heredity only.
(d) Myopia has been shown by research to be caused only by focusing the eyes up close too much.
(e) Myopia has been shown by research to be caused by both focusing up close and heredity.
(f) Myopia is practically unknown in college students worldwide.
(g) Myopia is seen in almost 95% of college students in some areas of the world.
8. “Neutral posture,” when applied to using a computer includes (choose the true statements):
(a) The head should tilt forward, towards the computer screen.
(b) The shoulders and upper arms should be squarely facing the computer, without twisting.
(c) The forearms should be stretched out away from the body when the keyboard is being used.
(d) The wrists should be relatively flat and straight on the table.
(e) The hands should be raised up, so the wrists are bent upwards.
(f) If the keyboard is arched, the inside of the curve should face towards the user.
(g) If the keyboard is arched, the inside of the curve should be facing away from the user.
9. On the right, a child is concentrating on his computer screen. What should be changed? (Choose the true statements):
(a) He is sitting on the floor, so he is comfortable; no change is needed.
(b) He is sitting on the floor, so he is comfortable, but he should be sitting in a chair.
(c) His head is leaning forward over the keyboard; he can see it, so no change is needed.
(d) His legs are straight out ahead of him, so no change is needed.
(e) His legs are straight out ahead of him, so get him a pillow to sit on.
(f) The room is grey and gloomy; bring him some flowers or something.
(g) His back and shoulders are humped over; get him a chair and table so he can sit upright.
10. This young man is using a laptop computer. What should be changed about how it is set up? (Choose the true statements.)
(a) He’s too close to the monitor; it needs to be farther away.
(b) His forearms are straight and flat; leave them alone.
(c) He’s smiling! Make him get serious!
(d) The pencils are too colorful; remove them or at least make them all yellow.
(e) His shoulders are relaxed and straight; no change is needed.
(f) His upper arms are hanging straight down and close to his body; no change is needed.
(g) He should set the computer on the floor so he can lie down to use it.
11. Computer use by children and teens has advantages and disadvantages; they include (Choose the true statements):
(a) Children can develop educational and learning skills like overcoming a short attention span.
(b) Spatial and logical skills can be reinforced by the use of a computer.
(c) Long-term memory can be damaged by interfering with neuronal connections in the brain.
(d) Muscles and bones of preschoolers and young children are still developing, but this should not be a problem.
(e) Regular vision exams are not helpful and will only make children more anxious about the possibility of getting glasses.
(f) Proper posture, lighting and how the computer workspace is configured are all important factors in computer use by children and teens.
(g) Parents should not worry about little things like eyestrain and neck and shoulder pain in their children; it’s just part of using a computer and they will get used to it.
12. This young man is using is laptop in an unusual location. What changes should be made to this situation? (Choose the true statements.)
(a) The box is too large, he should be more cramped.
(b) The box is too small, he should have his desk in there.
(c) His tennis shoes are green, he should get some blue ones.
(d) His laptop is about the right distance away from his eyes.
(e) His arms and wrists aren’t straight ahead of him, he should settle his laptop down a little.
(f) He is thinking “inside the box.” Move him outside it.
(g) His headphones are helping him concentrate.
Answers and Explanations
1. The true statements are (a), (b), (e) and (f). The computer is sitting on a table where it will probably used by an adult. Unfortunately, this is the case with many home computers; children often have to conform themselves to spaces much too large for them. His head and neck are upright, which is good, but his upper arms and elbows are forced into a position that is much too high.
2. The true statements are (a), maybe (b), (e) and (f). If a child or teen brings food with him to the computer, there may be a tendency to stay in the same position for too long without a break. He could spoil his dinner, too, but the real issue is family interaction, which has been shown to be beneficial, on or off the computer. Crumbs and sticky fingers will surely happen, too.
3. The true statement is (f). She’s lying on the floor, which will cause many different problems, including having to crane her neck backwards so she can see the monitor, and she will be too close to it as well. We hate to interrupt her, because she looks so happy, but this position for using a computer is NOT good.
4. The true statements are (d) and (g). Again, he’s lying down, only this time he’s off to the side so his head must be tilted upwards, putting the neck and shoulders under strain. Not only should his left wrist be straight, but he should be sitting up so his head is balanced above his neck, his shoulders are straight and his forearms and elbows can hang downwards and stay close to his body. His hands and wrists should be flat, with his forearms.
5. The changes that should be made here are (d) and (f). The computer lab is well- lighted and cheerful, although it may be a little too bright which can produce glare on the screens, but the bigger problem here is that the tables are too high for ALL of these children and should be adjustable in height so they can accommodate different age groups.
6. The true statements here are (a) and (e). Okay, they may order online contact lenses or have homework questions, but they do need breaks and should not use the computer for too many hours at a time.
7. The true statements are (a), (b), (e) and (g). Either laptops or desktop PCs are okay for children, as long as they are set up properly for the child’s size and reach. Recent research into myopia indicates that heredity is a factor, but so is prolonged focusing up close, known to eyecare practitioners as nearpoint stress. In some areas of the world, such as parts of Asia and Japan, myopia develops in a large majority of college students, and requires correction about 95% of the time.
8. The true statements are (b), (d) and (g). In general, posture should be upright but relaxed, with the head and shoulders facing the computer monitor without too much twisting. Wrists and forearms should be fairly straight out from the body without bending the wrists upwards, although it’s OK if they bend slightly downwards. The back of the keyboard should never be higher than the front, so leave those little feet folded under. Some ergonomics experts like keyboards that are “broken” apart in the middle, with each half turned slightly so the tip of the wide “V” points towards the user. This is a comfortable position for the hands and wrists. If a keyboard exists that bends in the other direction, with the ends closer to the user than the middle, it should be scrapped immediately.
9. The true statements here are (b), maybe (f), and definitely (g). He is the picture of an ergonomic nightmare, all scrunched over. Get this poor kid a table and chair, sized for him, please. (And put some pictures on the wall or something, too.)
10. The true statements are (b), (e) and (f). Not much about this needs changing, except that the light may be a little too bright on the screen.
11. The true statements are (a), (b) and (f). Some experts in education have found that computers can help develop a longer attention span, and that spatial and logical skills can be reinforced as well. As we have seen, proper posture and how the workspace is set up are all important factors to consider in computer use by young children and teenagers. Parents certainly SHOULD worry about symptoms of eyestrain, neck and shoulder pain, blurred vision, headaches and several other symptoms, which can indicate the onset of computer vision syndrome, a complex of related problems related to poor posture and visual stress resulting from computer usage. Regular vision exams can help detect these problems early so they can be treated or prevented.
12. The true statements are (d), (e) and (f). The situation in this case isn’t really all that bad as far as his vision is concerned. The computer is about the right distance away. His wrists are bent downward instead of up, unlike the way many work areas are configured. However, his back and neck will probably become uncomfortable, as will his legs. He is, almost without doubt, thinking “inside the box.”
Regular vision examinations by an eyecare practitioner, preferably a specialist in children’s vision, can be a valuable tool to find areas of concern and recommend ways to avoid long-term damage to the eyes and the posture while children are still growing and developing. Parents should definitely take the time and make the effort to provide a good workspace that is the right size for their children to use when looking at the computer. The child will be less likely to have eye or posture problems and younger children, especially, will love using their own space, set up just for them. Computers and other electronic devices are here to stay, whether we like them or not, but at least we can control how and when they are used so as to minimize the effects of poor posture and too many hours staring at the screen without a break.