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Brain's Error-Detection System Demystified
Date:10/28/2010

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

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
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