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.
“When I was a boy, you learned to type by taking a typing class and one of the first assignments was to memorize the keyboard,” Logan recalled.
Une étude menée auprès d’une centaine d’étudiants de niveau universitaire tend à démontrer que les bons dactylographes tout comme les novices écrivent au clavier sans consciemment en connaître l’emplacement des touches!—
Help these students send an experimental satellite to space!
These students from Concordia University in Montreal are competing to send an experimental satellite into orbit. I like their motivation, I like their energy, and I like the science behind the project.
Space junk is a huge problem, but not all of it’s huge. A forgotten wrench or glove can certainly bring down a spacecraft or satellite, but so can a pebble. Much of it is small enough that it can’t be seen or tracked, but traveling at high orbital velocities, microdebris still packs a devastating punch.
The Space Concordia team wants to test a special self-healing material that can repair itself after damage with these tiny bits of debris. It’s a fantastic idea that has real, direct application to current and future space missions. I mean, I wouldn’t like to have my capsule punctured by a misplaced sand grain on my way to Mars, and I don’t think you would either.
They are asking for Canadian dollars on their Kickstarter, but I think that, using science, we can probably work out a way to use whatever currency you happen to have lying around.
Really cool project, from the same space-faring neighbors that gave us Chris Hadfield. Score another one for Canada!
Aidez les étudiants de Concordia à envoyer un satellite expérimental dans l’espace! [Kickstarter]
HISTORY MEME - six women: maria sibylla merian [1/6]
Maria Sibylla Merian was a German-born naturalist and scientific illustrator, born in 1647. Her step-father encouraged her to draw and paint, and she painted her first images of insects and plants, based on specimens she had collected, at the age of thirteen. She continued drawing and painting after she had married, and increased her income and social status by giving drawing lessons to the unmarried daughters of wealthy families. In 1699, she and her daughter, sponsored by the city of Amsterdam, traveled to Suriname, where she worked there for two years. While in Suriname she sketched animals and plants, often collecting local names and uses for the plants she drew. She also criticized the treatment of natives and slaves by the Dutch planters in the colony. In 1705 she published the Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamesium, her major work describing the insects of Suriname. Her work observing insects disproved the then-popular theory that insects were born by spontaneous generation, and though her work was popular amongst high society, because it was written in the vernacular it received little attention from the scientific community. She died in 1717. (x)
After 4 days in studio the audio book is done! I hope all who listen to books like it. Thanks Playfair Studio Sarnia!
The book-signing tour will be across Canada, the US, UK & Ireland in Nov/Dec, & a bit into January too. Looking forward to meeting everyone!
The book is called An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. It’s available for order now at http://www.chrishadfield.ca , in book stores on 29 Oct.
AeroVelo, a small team from the University of Toronto, has created the first ever human-powered helicopter, winning an international award that hasn’t been claimed for over 3 decades. The engineering marvel defies gravity without any electricity or fuel. Watch the amazing video, here.
This talented 18 year old won the $50 000 prize for inventing a device that can charge batteries incredible quickly.
SAMANTHA MARQUEZ, 16-year old Award Winning Scientist and Innovator
At the age of 12, Samantha Marquez developed a hollow structure of cells she named Celloidosomes, which has “applications in Tissue Engineering, Bioengineering, Environmental Science, Genetic Engineering, and cell/drug delivery as well as many other fields of science.”
Since discovering Celloidosomes, Samantha has published several peer-reviewed papers and presented her research work around the US, China, Spain, Mexico, Costa Rica, and most recently, Russia, where she won first place in the International Space Olympics.
Samantha, who is now working on her 8th patent, is also a tireless advocate for the Latino community, encouraging Latino youth and women to develop a passion for STEM fields.