Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Evidence suggesting that young computer programmers have “bilingual brains”

After much procrastination, I am finally posting the results of my research into how the frequent use of computer programming languages affect the brain.

As followers of the blog will remember, after reading theories about how learning languages affect the brain, I wanted to know whether computer programming languages also affected the brain. With a few notable exceptions (e.g. Murnane, 1993) most research about the cognitive effects of computer programming seemed to have focused on programming as a problem solving rather than a linguistic activity. If computer languages were indeed languages, I thought that it would make sense for them to affect the brain in a similar way to other languages.

This is quite a big subject, so I honed in on bilingualism. If computer programming languages are languages, then people who spoke one language and could programme to a high standard should be bilingual. Research has suggested that bilingual people perform faster than monolingual people at tasks requiring executive control – that is, tasks involving the ability to pay attention to important information and ignore irrelevant information (for a review of the “robust” evidence for this, see Hilchey & Klein, 2011). So, I set out to find out whether computer programmers were better at these tasks too. It is thought that the bilingual advantage is the result of the effort involved in keeping two languages separate in the brain and deciding which one to use. I noticed that novice computer programmers have difficulty in controlling “transfer” from English to programming languages (e.g. expecting the command “while” to imply continuous checking; see Soloway and Spohrer, 1989), so it seemed plausible that something similar might occur through the learning of programming languages.

For the rest of the story: http://thecodingbrain.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/evidence-suggesting-that-young-computer-programmers-have-bilingual-brains/

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