Research conducted by Vanderbilt University psychologists suggests that people think about things they think they don't think about. For instance, when highly skilled people such as surgeons, carpenters, or pilots perform actions without thinking, those actions are highly controlled.
Gordon Logan and Matthew Crump tested 72 college-age professional typists who had to type single words shown to them one at a time on a computer screen and their responses appeared on the screen below the word to be typed. The researchers then secretly introduced errors to see if the typists would detect them. In some instances, they secretly corrected errors made by the typists.
Logan and Crump found the typists' fingers did not slow down after an error was secretly inserted even though the typists thought they made the error. But when typists made errors, their fingers slowed down whether researchers corrected those errors or not.The researchers concluded this happens because there are two different processes that create and detect errors. "The ''outer loop'' or thinking part of the process tries to decide whether the ''inner loop'' or doing part of the process is right or wrong," said Logan.
"The illusion of authorship was the most surprising thing. People thought they typed correctly if the screen looked right and they thought they typed incorrectly if the screen looked wrong even though their fingers ''knew'' the truth," said Logan.
This "knowing of the truth" proves that skills that people perform without thinking are highly controlled.
The finger movements in the typing study, according to project researchers, show people consciously control actions in which they are highly skilled even when they don't think about them.
The research is published today in the journal Science.