Research reveals that the coding or programming is stored in the same area of the brain as speech
You have all seen programmers working and may have often wondered where do programmers and coders store such a vast amount of information in their brains? After all, your brain size equals their brain size, and yet they are able to perform complex coding in a jiffy while you can’t even remember where you kept your morning coffee cup. This question needs serious research and that is what a team of researchers set to find out.
What goes on in the minds of programmers when they write software?
Do programmers have some kind of a super-brain? What goes on in their heads when they are writing a code or software? This basic question haunts many of us. The very same question was taken up for research by a team of researchers led by Prof. Dr. Janet Siegmund, Chair of Software Engineering at the Chemnitz University of Technology, Prof. Dr. Sven Apel, Chair of Software Engineering at Saarland University and Dr. André Brechmann, head of the special laboratory for non-invasive imaging at the Leibniz Institute of Neurobiology in Magdeburg.
The researchers first tried to find out in which part of the brain does a programmer save all the coding that goes on his/her head. To find out, the researchers used imaging techniques from the neurosciences such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and investigated which brain areas are activated when reading and understanding computer programs.
What they found out was surprising, The brain uses the same area to save coding as it does to save our speech. They found that programming is like talking. The research found out that the brain regions that are most active during coding are those that are also relevant in the processing of natural language.
The idea for our research question arose in Magdeburg during a joint meeting of researchers from the Leibniz Institute of Neurobiology and the Faculty of Informatics in Magdeburg.
Prof. Dr.Janet Siegmund
For the study, the team used the subtraction method, which has proven itself in neuroscience: In this method, the programmers were first asked to write a code for software. Their brain activity was mapped using magnetic resonance tomography.
For the second step, the programmers were asked to check a code snippet for simple syntax errors and point them out. The researchers asked the coders to repeat this procedure several times to see if their brain continues to work in a synchronized manner.
After the tests were completed, the researchers subtracted the images of the programmer’s brain activity during the first test from that of the second test. What remained were the brain regions that are of particular importance for the process of program comprehension. Aka where the brain stores the programming snippets.
The research team’s findings could have far-reaching consequences in the design of programming languages, programming education, or answering fundamental questions—such as what constitutes complicated or simple program code.
The team’s research has been published in the Communications of the ACM. If you are interested in this study, you can contact Prof. Dr. Janet Siegmund et al. for the research paper: Studying programming in the neuroage, Communications of the ACM (2020). DOI: 10.1145/3347093