Your Fingers Know When You Make a Typo

Your Fingers Know When You Make a Typo

But the speed of the typists' keystrokes revealed something else. After hitting the wrong key, a typist’s fingers slowed down for the next keystroke, even if the researchers sneakily fixed the error so that the typist didn't notice it. In these cases, a typist wasn't explicitly aware of the mistake, but the brain's motor signal changed nevertheless.

Logan says that this change in timing reflects a kind of automatic assessment of performance. "The body is doing one thing and the mind is doing another," he says. "What we found was that the fingers knew the truth."

This makes sense to me because I sometimes type with my eyes closed, and I've definitely noticed myself correcting typos without ever having seen them.

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13 Responses:

  1. gfish says:

    I hope some autocorrect software takes this into account. Knowing if there was a pause or not would change the conditional probability of the word being correct.

  2. "This makes sense to me because I sometimes type with my eyes closed, and I've definitely noticed myself correcting typos without ever having seen them."

    Me, too.

    • elusis says:

      Yeah, me three - and it makes it really hard to do those typing speed tests where you're not supposed to make any corrections, because I'm so used to automatically backing up and making the change that I slow myself down by having to override the impulse.

      • gryazi says:

        That is one of the more annoying sensations.

        Drills will actually improve your accuracy, though, which helps speed in the end. gtypist's short blocks of random characters are nice because they don't trip the 'but I can't bear to look at mistyped language' instinct.

  3. I do the same thing while having conversations with co-workers sometimes (head turned away from my keyboard and monitor). It's freaked people out on more than one occasion.

    • elusis says:

      BT, DT. I'm like, "Mom made me take 2 semesters of keyboarding, whut?" but I usually don't mention the many nights I sat up until dawn chatting with WWIV sysops.

  4. gryazi says:

    Stating the obvious, but it'd be weirder if there wasn't a detectable signal finger-wise, since the positioning is going to be off and require adjustment to avoid smashing out a whole string of errors. The automatic corrections would probably amplify it, if anything - imagine trying to type straight if wcwetrgubf tiy rtow came up one character to the left.

    The weird part is how the subjects trust their eyes over their fingers when consciously assessing performance.

    • lanikei says:

      I'm disturbed by how easily I read the 'shifted' words. I'm surprised that it took so long for this kind of thing to be pointed out. I guess now we have a statistically significant non-nerd population who has spent years IMing or otherwise chatting. I know my typing skills came from Yahoo/AOL live chats. If I couldn't type fast and clean, it was difficult to carry on a conversation.

      I wonder how text speak and a general acceptance for misspelling will impact this effect.

  5. jayp39 says:

    I used to moonlight for a company that transcribes voicemails to emails, which was lucrative but soul-sucking and boring. I got to the point where I could effectively sleep, or maybe it was going into some sort of trance, while I was transcribing. I would "wake up" mid-transcription with no idea what I was typing, but if I went back and checked my work it was accurate.

    I don't do that anymore, but I often will find myself typing an email, replying to a chat message, or occasionally even editing code, while also holding a conversation with somebody.

  6. tjic says:

    Only typo I ever make... is it 'r'instead of 't'? Everytime I shut my eyes...it's always the same.

  7. lionsphil says:

    It would be interesting to see just how badly this effect is degraded by non-tactile keyboards, e.g. iPads.

  8. auntyglory says:

    I know when I've made a mistake even when my eyes are closed. In fact if I am tired of correcting those naughty fingers I will close my eyes so I can concentrate more and still, I know when I've hit the wrong key and can fix it.