A new study reveals why, for professional typists, the act of typing is almost an automaton.
"We all know we do some things on autopilot, from walking to doing familiar tasks like making coffee and, in this study, typing. What we don't know as scientists is how people are able to control their autopilots," Gordon Logan, Centennial Professor of Psychology and lead author of the new research, said.
"The hands know when the hands make an error, even when the mind does not," he said.
Logan and co-author Matthew Crump had skilled typists type in words that appeared on the screen and then report whether or not they had made any errors.
Using a computer program they created, the researchers either randomly inserted errors that the user had not made or corrected errors the user had made.
They also timed the typists' typing speed, looking for the slowdown that is known to occur when one hits the wrong key. They then asked the typists to evaluate their overall performance.
The researchers found the typists generally took the blame for the errors the program had inserted and took the credit for mistakes the computer had corrected.
However, their fingers, as managed by the autopilot, were not fooled - the typists slowed down when they actually made an error, as expected, and did not slow down when a false error appeared on the screen.
"This suggests that error detection can occur on a voluntary and involuntary basis," Crump, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology, said.
"An important feature of our research is to show that people can compensate for their mistakes even when they are not aware of their errors," he said.
"The tool will also allow a better understanding of how these different processes work together."
The research was published in the Oct. 29 issue of Science.