What is kinesthetic sense?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Kinesthesia is the sense which helps us detect weight, body position, or the relationship between movements in our body parts such as joints, muscles and tendons. In short, it is the muscle sense. Kinesthetic is the adjective form of this word and has to do with the same basic sense: the sense of body awareness.

In everyday life, we use our kinesthetic senses all the time. It is how we decide to duck when we are in a place where the ceilings are low, and it helps us determine whether or not we will fit into a car without adjusting the seat either forward or back. It is not a sense which we think about much, but from these examples you can see that it is a sense we use all the time without a lot of conscious thought--at least as adults. When you walk into a room and the only seat left is on the couch between two people, you are probably more consciously and deliberately thinking about the relationship between your body and that space, but you are undoubtedly also factoring in who the two people are and how comfortable you are sitting so closely to them. Most of the time, at least as adults, our kinesthetic sense is automatic and subconscious.

While this sense is something most of us take for granted, it is the most helpful sense to those who are blind or visually impaired. Their kinesthetic sense is able to help them get and help them stay oriented in familiar surroundings. Some of the things they can do with kinesthetic information include:

  • accurately judge (without counting steps) how far we are walking, for example when we have walked far enough to reach a hallway or door, a store, or a bus stop;
  • accurately judge how much we turn as we stand or walk;
  • recognize if we’re walking on a slope or hill (we can notice sideways slopes better than forward slopes, because we are more sensitive to changes in the angle of our ankle when the foot is tilted to the side than when it is dropped or lifted forward);
  • recognize when the guide has stepped up or down, or the cane has dropped down over an edge or a curb.

The kinesthetic sense is also referred to as "muscle memory," and in education it is taught in many ways, primarily in physical education classes (which makes sense because that is the place where the body is used as much as the mind, unlike other classroom disciplines). Children have to learn to have an awareness of their own bodies and movements. Some movements, like skipping, are a little complicated for young children at first because they just have not yet learned how to make their joints and muscles do exactly what they want them to do. In fact, if you watch them, many of them think they are skipping but are in fact doing some other action. They eventually learn it, of course, along with other types of things we generally term generically as "coordination."

A kinesthetic learner is the student who learns best by a hands-on approach; roughly five percent of the population are kinesthetic learners.  

While much about our kinesthetic sense is innate, it is something we can watch develop in children and it is something we can all improve on with practice and intention. 

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eli468 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Kinesthetic sense is," an ability to sense body position and the movement of muscles, tendons, and joints." A good example of this can be when you are walking around a corner. Your kinesthetic sense allows you to easily go around the corner closely to it, without actually bumping into it. Have you ever tried to leave a room and accidentally bumped into the wall or door? Your kinesthetic sense was not aware of what was about to happen. 

Kinesthetic sense is essentially muscle memory that occurs from a repetition of a motor task. This is why walking comes naturally and signing your name can be simple. Another example is people who can type quickly without looking at the keyboard. The fingers have built up a muscle memory or kinesthetic sense to where they need to move in order to push the correct buttons without needing assistance from visuals.

Kinesthetic sense occurs," by activating a receptor of proprioceptory senses in the periphery." The information all comes from within the ears (to determine balance), muscles, and ligaments.

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