When you are typing away at your computer, you don’t know what your fingers are really doing.
That is the conclusion of a study conducted by a team of cognitive psychologists at Vanderbilt and Kobe universities. It found that skilled typists can’t identify the positions of many of the keys on the QWERTY keyboard and that novice typists don’t appear to learn key locations in the first place.
“This demonstrates that we’re capable of doing extremely complicated things without knowing explicitly what we are doing,” said Vanderbilt University graduate student Kristy Snyder, the first author of the study, which was conducted under the supervision of Centennial Professor of Psychology Gordon Logan.
A description of the research will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, which recently posted it online.
The researchers recruited 100 university students and members from the surrounding community to participate in an experiment. The participants completed a short typing test. Then, they were shown a blank QWERTY keyboard and given 80 seconds to write the letters in the correct location. On average, they typed 72 words per minute, moving their fingers to the correct keys six times per second with 94 percent accuracy. By contrast, they could accurately place an average of only 15 letters on a blank keyboard.
The fact that the typists did so poorly at identifying the position of specific keys didn’t come as a surprise. For more than a century, scientists have recognized the existence of automatism: the ability to perform actions without conscious thought or intention. Automatic behaviors of this type are surprisingly common, ranging from tying shoelaces to making coffee to factory assembly-line work to riding a bicycle and driving a car. So scientists had assumed that typing also fell into this category, but had not tested it.
What did come as a surprise, however, was a finding that conflicts with the basic theory of automatic learning, which suggests that it starts out as a conscious process and gradually becomes unconscious with repetition. According to the widely held theory – primarily developed by studying how people learn to play chess – when you perform a new task for the first time, you are conscious of each action and store the details in working memory. Then, as you repeat the task, it becomes increasingly automatic and your awareness of the details gradually fades away. This allows you to think about other things while you are performing the task.
Given the prevalence of this “use it or lose it” explanation, the researchers were surprised when they found evidence that the typists never appear to memorize the key positions, not even when they are first learning to type.
“It appears that not only don’t we know much about what we are doing, but we can’t know it because we don’t consciously learn how to do it in the first place” said Logan.
Evidence for this conclusion came from another experiment included in the study. The researchers recruited 24 typists who were skilled on the QWERTY keyboard and had them learn to type on a Dvorak keyboard, which places keys in different locations. After the participants developed a reasonable proficiency with the alternative keyboard, they were asked to identify the placement of the keys on a blank Dvorak keyboard. On average, they could locate only 17 letters correctly, comparable to participants’ performance with the QWERTY keyboard.
According to the researchers, the lack of explicit knowledge of the keyboard may be due to the fact that computers and keyboards have become so ubiquitous that students learn how to use them in an informal, trial-and-error fashion when they are very young.
Here is an interesting graphic representing the orbits of the over 1,000 known potentially hazardous asteroids that may one day affect life on Earth.
Learn more here : http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap130812.html
Photo Credit: NASA
photo by james snyder of a cuban tree frog who swallowed a christmas light when a bug landed on it. the bulb was gently pulled from his stomach, and the frog seemed no worse for wear, if however slightly insulted. but that’s probably because he’s so thin skinned.
frog r u serious
People do know!!I do. I reblogged her pic a while back.Admiral Grace Hopper.Grace Hopper. Thanks for all the hard work, Grace. I wouldn’t know who you are without you.
It makes me happy when people know Rear Admiral “Amazing” Grace Hopper!
Usually known as the inventor of COBOL, which is true, it is a disservice to her actual accomplishments and drive that basically created modern computing. Here’s the original points, plus some more:
- If Alan Turing is the father of the computer, she is the mother of modern computing.
- She has a PhD in mathematics from a time when women were discouraged from knowing math.
- She developed the first software compiler.
- She developed machine independent languages.
- She tried to join the Navy after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but was denied because she was underweight. She persisted and was accepted. She retired as one of the first women to reach the rank of (Commodore at the time, but switched shortly after to) Rear Admiral of the US Navy.
- She was involved in the development of the UNIVAC.
- She invented a computer language still in use today (COBOL)
- She invented the term ‘debugging’ when an associate found a moth in a vacuum tube.
- She coined the phrase “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.”
- She has a navy destroyer and cray supercomputer named after her.
- After retiring from the navy, she worked for DEC. Her primary activity in this capacity was as a goodwill ambassador, lecturing widely on the early days of computers, her career, and on efforts that computer vendors could take to make life easier for their users. She visited a large fraction of Digital’s engineering facilities, where she generally received a standing ovation at the conclusion of her remarks.
- Grace Hopper is famous for her nanoseconds visual aid. People (such as generals and admirals) used to ask her why satellite communication took so long. She started handing out pieces of wire which were just under one foot long (11.80 inches), which is the distance that light travels in one nanosecond. She gave these pieces of wire the metonym ”nanoseconds.”
- Later she used the same pieces of wire to illustrate why computers had to be small to be fast. At many of her talks and visits, she handed out “nanoseconds” to everyone in the audience, contrasting them with a coil of wire nearly a thousand feet long, representing a microsecond. Later, while giving these lectures while working for DEC, she passed out packets of pepper which she called picoseconds.
- The most important thing I’ve accomplished, other than building the compiler, is training young people. They come to me, you know, and say, “Do you think we can do this?” I say, “Try it.” And I back ‘em up. They need that. I keep track of them as they get older and I stir ‘em up at intervals so they don’t forget to take chances.”
- Jay Elliot described Grace Hopper as appearing to be “all Navy” but when you reach inside, you find a “Pirate” dying to be released.
- She was laid to rest with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen… the person that took computers from ones and zeros and made computers what they are today is a woman. A military woman. A female scientist. She was brilliant, adventurous, stubborn, and all around awesome. It is a SHAME she isn’t as well known as she is. Please take some time to go over these facts and read that wikipedia article (which I stole most of the facts from). Learn about her. She changed your life for the better!
Happy birthday Grace!!
I’ve talked about the Admiral before, but since it’s her birthday, and the Google Doodle is about her today, I’m making sure.
I love this quote. I love this movie.
This scene impressed me so much when I first saw it. It still fills me with… idk something. I love it.
Still one of my favorite lines from a movie ever.