How to Fix MacBook Pro Trackpad Erratic Cursor Dance Issue (Guide)

I was frustrated with this MacBook Pro trackpad cursor dancing problem all day long. Fortunately, I resolved it with an "imperfect" solution (will explain why later).

So, I figured it might worth putting together this article like this -- sharing my experience and hopefully it would save you a trip to Apple Genius Bar.

What happened to my MacBook trackpad?

I am on a MacBook Pro and as I can recall now, it all started with a temporary freeze on my Mac (unlike the classic Mac freezes issue though)...about five seconds or so; I couldn't do anything.

Short after that, I noticed my MacBook Pro started to act up — the cursor kept jumping around, web pages automatically opened and closed, screen resolution adjusted itself, etc. This really scared me as my Mac was literally out of control.

Things I tried but didn't work

Although the erratic trackpad/cursor issue persisted at that time, I still could perform some basic operations though not that smooth.

At first, I thought my Mac was infected, because the situation reminded me of viruses and malware issues back in the PC days. So I immediately opened BitDefender Antivirus for Mac and ran a full scan. Around 20 minutes later, no threats found (to my surprise).

I then suspected my Mac internal hard drive was malfunctioning, so I went ahead and pulled out Disk Utility and several other apps to check Mac hard drive health. Turned out the main drive is working fine without any problems.

I also reset SMC and NVRAM on my MacBook Pro, thinking that would fix the issue as the symptoms I was facing were quite similar to what the Apple support articles describe. In case you don't know, resetting NVRAM and SMC is pretty easy. Check out this and this article from Apple.

And guess what? Nope, the Mac cursor still kept jumping and clicking, and moving on its own after that.

I also disconnected my Magic Mouse, USB flash drive, and unplugged the charger. The last thing I tried but didn't work either was performing software update via App Store.

All these took me a few precious hours...until I finally fixed it with a simple trick.

The solution? It's oddly simple!

Checking an option called "Ignore built-in trackpad when mouse or wireless trackpad is present" via the System Preferences setting.

Here's how to do it step by step:

Step 1: On your Mac desktop, click the Apple logo, and select System Preferences.

Step 2: In the preferences pane, click Accessibility.

Step 3: On the left pane, scroll down to locate the Mouse & Trackpad tab, see that "Ignore built-in trackpad..." option? Check it.

Now the erratic cursor jumping issue should disappear. And you should be able to use your external mouse to navigate smoothly on your Mac.

Why the solution isn't perfect

I tried to uncheck that option above, and guess what...the trackpad problem appears AGAIN on my MacBook Pro.

That means I can ONLY rely on the Apple Magic Mouse to navigate — which I'm okay with. But for those of you who don't have a mouse or you are used to relying on the trackpad for navigation, it can be troublesome.

Frankly, I don't know the cause (or reason) of this trackpad issue, I guess it has something to do with the hardware. For example, it might be a sign that my trackpad could be failing soon and it's best to have a holistic diagnosis.

Update Note (Apr. 2018): Hats-off to one of our readers "Avery Ryder" for sending over this tip. Since it's difficult to navigate to System Preferences without a mouse, he wrote an AppleScript which can help cure the macOS jumpy cursor and can toggle on and off the trackpad. Note: we recommend this tip to Mac power users only.

Final words

Once you've fixed the trackpad erratic cursor dance issue, and brought your Mac to life, make sure to do some maintenance to prevent such annoying issues in future. For most Mac users, you'll love this app called CleanMyMac 3 — it will keep your Mac in great shape for years. Apart from cleaning junk files, it also offers you a handful of utilities to quickly optimize your Mac's performance to avoid potential issues.​

Anyway, I hope the simple guide has helped you resolve the erratic trackpad issue. I tried the solution on my MacBook Pro and it worked. though I can't guarantee that it will work with an iMac or MacBook Air. 

Feel free to leave a comment below and let me know how it works for you? Or if you have come up with another better resolution, kindly share with me and I'll consider updating this post to make it more useful.

Andreas is an Apple and Microsoft fanboy who works with his Mac and lives with a PC at home. While he is not reading technology journals, you’ll probably find him playing online games with friends or hiking in the wild.

24 thoughts on “How to Fix MacBook Pro Trackpad Erratic Cursor Dance Issue (Guide)

  1. I have a 2013 Macbook pro where the cursor position jumps randomly. I tried an external trackpad (where I check to ignore the built in trackpad)- same problem. I purchased an external mouse. Same problem I purchased a new Macbook Pro at the end of 2016, and used Time Machine to transfer over the apps/files to the new computer. And, much to my surprise/angst, the cursor is jumping on my new computer! So it seems like the problem somehow was ‘transferred’ over to the new computer in the TimeMachine installation/transfer. I can’t believe it.

  2. This seems to be a problem Apple doesn’t want to deal with. The Senior Advisor was just a bully and hung up on me. I’d called Apple Care and the call center person disappeared for about ten minutes and returned with your trick. But this disables my track pad which as soon as I do anything else, it’s a problem. I didn’t pay all that money to get a MacBook with no track pad. I figured out the solution below for one application, but it might provide a more universal solution–disable the keyboard navigation key-combinations

    OK. I think this is a general hardware issue..but I don’t know enough.
    However, specifically to my word processor: Nisus Writer Pro I discovered that
    1. The cursor was jumping backward in the text to the last insertion point.
    2. There is a key-combination for this: Command [ , and to go forward to the next insertion point Command ],
    3. I’m definitely not hitting those keys in combination.
    4. I can duplicate the issue if I touch the TrackPad, then hit either [ or ] the cursor will jump back to the last insertion point. (It’s sequential, not a combination TrackPad touch, (release) then [ or ])
    5. The NisusWriter commands are very specific, the trackpad sequence is either bracket.
    6. In NisusWriter Preferences >>Menu Keys>>Selection I deleted the key commands for ‘last insertion point’ and ‘next insertion point.’ Seems to have resolved the issue in my word processor.
    * The first thing I noticed was menus popping, up webpages switching, along with the jumping or crazy cursor. It’s taken me three weeks to figure out it’s a misfiring cursor navigation keyboard shortcut. I suspect that it might be happening anywhere there are similar key-combination shortcuts. I hope this helps.

    OK. sent this to NisusWriter Pro, Apple Discussion and MacRumors Forum.
    Hope this helps some people. The Apple woman was really snarky and not helpful. She didn’t have a solution, she was just being controlling and condescending. I expressed frustration, she was just looking for an excuse to hang up on me.

  3. My God thank you. I was 5 seconds away from hurling my laptop out the window. You saved me a couple of grand there.

  4. I often kept my iPhone right near my Macbook Air. Read somewhere that sometimes Bluetooth devices can interfere with each other. Turned off the Bluetooth on my iPhone as a trial, and the jumpy, erratic cursor immediately stopped.

  5. Thanks for the tip.
    My macbook pro probably needs a new trackpad. It happened once before.
    I was concerned that the problem was something bigger since cursor & screen were erratic even with an external mouse. But it is working perfectly now.
    Since I am in the process of moving, this temporary fix is a lifesaver.

  6. Thank you so much! I tried for hours to fix my erratic scrolling. Persistence paid off when I found your post. Worked like a charm, thanks again!

  7. Thanks for the relief from the trackpad cursor dance!! Happened once before and wore itself out after 5 days (not sure why). Started again yesterday, and after hours of searching other solutions came upon yours, and so far so good! Thanks for sharing.

  8. This is such an annoying problem that no one seems to know how to solve. I have a brand new mac book pro, late 2016, and it’s happening on this machine! Emails are a pain in the “neck.” I have read everything I can online after searching seriously for a resolution. It’s strange, as I write this it has not happened at all. I originally thought my palms or hands were inadvertently touching the trackpad as I would type. I have raised my hands to make sure that doesn’t happen. It still does; then I thought I was somehow hitting two keys at once (like space bar at same time I would type a comma, etc.) Or would accidnelty hit the shift key when reaching for an “a” or “z.” Like er there is a certain key combination that moves the cursor back a certain number of spaces or words??? Still no answer.

    I just couldn;’t figure it out. And I still can’t…I am retired and don’t have to use a computer for business or work each day so I just have to live with it. I might just make an appt down at my local Apple store genius bar and see what they have to say. I have heard of customers getting their computer “replaced” and the problem continues. so, it must be an internal IOS software problem…I sure hope it gets resolved SOON!

  9. Thanks! Awesome! =)

    I did a lot of things like resenting the NVRAM, but those things didn’t work.

    Now, the issue is fixed due to the “Ignore built-in trackpad…” option =)

  10. My Macbook Pro is from 2015, and I´ve the same problem. I´ve discovered, that the letter “t” is the course to the cursors randomly tour de free. Very seldom is it another letter, that starts it.
    I can write very much, if I don´t use a t.
    But who on earth can write in that way?
    Where is Apple in this matter?

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