Brain's Error-Detection System Demystified10/28/10
THURSDAY, Oct. 28 (HealthDay News) -- A new study provides
insight into the brain's ability to detect and correct errors, such
as typos, even when someone is working on "autopilot."
Researchers had three groups of 24 skilled typists use a
computer keyboard. Without the typists' knowledge, the researchers
either inserted typographical errors or removed them from the typed
text on the screen.
They discovered that the typists' brains realized they'd made
typos even if the screen suggested otherwise and they didn't
consciously realize the errors weren't theirs, even accepting
responsibility for them.
"Your fingers notice that they make an error and they slow down, whether we corrected the error or not," said study lead author Gordon D. Logan, a professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
The idea of the study is to understand how the brain and body
interact with the environment and break down the process of
automatic behavior. "If I want to pick up my coffee cup, I have a
goal in mind that leads me to look at it, leads my arm to reach
toward it and drink it," he said. "This involves a kind of feedback
loop. We want to look at more complex actions than that."
In particular, Logan and colleagues wondered about complex
things that we do on autopilot without much conscious thought. "If
I decide I want to go to the mailroom, my feet carry me down the
hall and up the steps. I don't have to think very much about doing
it. But if you look at what my feet are doing, they're doing a
complex series of actions every second," Logan explained.
Enter the typists. "Think about what's involved in typing: They
use eight fingers and probably a thumb," Logan said. "They're going
at this rate for protracted periods of time. It's a complex act of
coordination to carry out typing like this, but we do it without
thinking about it."
The researchers report their findings in the Oct. 29 issue of
The research suggests that "the motor system is taking care of
the keystrokes, but it's being driven by this higher-level system
that thinks in terms of words and tells your hands which words to
type," Logan said.
Two autonomous feedback loops are involved in this
error-detection and correction process, the researchers said.
What's next? "By understanding how typists are so good at
typing, it will help us train people in other kinds of skills,
developing this autopilot controlled by a pilot [typist]," he
Gregory Hickok, director of the Center for Cognitive
Neuroscience at the University of California at Irvine, said such
research can indeed lead to advances.
Simply reaching for a cup is a fairly complicated process, said
Hickok, who's familiar with the study findings. "Despite all that
is going on, our movements are usually effortless, rapid, and fluid
even in the face of unexpected changes," he said.
"If we can understand how humans can achieve this, we might be able to build robots to do all sorts of things, or develop new therapies or build prosthetic devices for people who have lost their motor abilities due to disease or injury," he said.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
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