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What is the difference between reading computer code and reading language for the human brain?

author | Anne Trafton

translate | Hot sauce , Coordinating editor | Jin Zhaoyu

Produce | AI Technology base

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Neuroscientists have found that , When humans read code, they activate a universal network of brain regions , But it doesn't activate the language processing center .

In some ways , Learning computer programming is very similar to learning a new language . Both need to learn new symbols and terms , Then organize these symbols and terms in the right way , And then guide the computer to carry out the corresponding task . It's like language , It also needs to be clear enough to convey computer code , So that other programmers can read and understand .

Despite these similarities , But neuroscientists at MIT have found that , When humans read computer code, they don't activate areas of the brain involved in language processing . contrary , It activates a program called “ Multiple demand networks ” Distributed network , The network will also be used to deal with complex cognitive tasks , Like solving math problems or crossword puzzles .

However , Even though the computer can read the code “ Multiple demand networks ”, But compared to solving mathematical or logical problems , It depends on different network areas . therefore , This shows that the coding process does not accurately replicate the mathematical cognitive needs .

Graduate students at MIT 、 Anna, the lead author of the study · Ivanova (Anna Ivanova) Express :“ Understanding computer code seems to be a unique process . It's different from learning a language , It's also different from dealing with mathematical and logical problems ”.

Evelyn · Fedoronco (Evelina Fedorenko)—— Frederick ·A And Carol ·J(Frederick a . and Carole J. ) Associate professor of neuroscience career development in Middletown , And McGovern Brain Institute (McGovern Institute for Brain Research) member —— He is the senior author of the research paper . meanwhile , MIT Computer Science and artificial intelligence lab (MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) And Tufts University (Tufts University) Researchers from around the world were also involved in the study .

 

Language and cognition

One of the focuses of Fedorenko's research is the relationship between language and other cognitive functions . In especial , Whether other functions depend on the brain's language network —— Including Broca's District (Broca’s ) And other areas of the left hemisphere of the brain . Her previous research has shown that , Music and mathematics don't seem to activate this language network .

EVA pointed out that :“ We are happy to explore the relationship between language and computer programming , Computer programming is a new technology , There is no hard and fast mechanism to make a person a good programmer ”.

She said , About “ How the brain learns to code ” The problem of , At present, there are two main views in academic circles : One group thinks , Be good at programming , You have to be good at math ; The other thinks , Because of the similarity between coding and language learning , So language skills may be more conducive to programming learning . To get to the bottom of this , Researchers began to investigate whether brain activity patterns when reading computer code overlap with language related brain activity .

In this study , Researchers focus on two programming languages known for their readability ——Python and ScratchJr, Specially designed for 5 Visual programming language designed for people aged or older . The subjects in the study were young people proficient in the language they were testing . When programmers lie on fMRI (fMRI) In the scanner , Researchers will show them code snippets , And ask them to predict what operations the code will generate .

Results found , There was almost no response in the language area of the brain . contrary , The researchers found that coding tasks mainly activate the so-called multiple requirements network . The network activity is mainly distributed in the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain , It's often used to accomplish tasks that require remembering multiple information at the same time , And is responsible for assisting human beings to perform various mental tasks .

Ivano mentioned :” Multiple demand networks can accomplish almost anything with cognitive challenges , Make people think hard ”.

Previous studies have shown that , Math and logic problems seem to depend mainly on the multiple demand areas of the left brain , And when it comes to space navigation tasks , In humans, the right brain is more activated than the left . The MIT team found that , Reading computer code seems to activate a network of multiple needs on both sides of the brain at the same time , and ScratchJr The activation of the right side is slightly higher than that of the left side . This discovery overturns the previous “ Mathematics and coding depend on the same brain mechanism ” Assumptions .

 

 

The influence of experience

The researchers say , Although this experiment does not seem to have found a brain region specifically responsible for computer programming , But people with more programming experience may develop this specialized brain activity .

Fedorenko said :“ If you find some flowers 30 or 40 A professional programmer who has been writing code in a particular language for more than two years , We may find some special specialization in the brain , Or find crystallization in a specific area of a multiple demand system . This requires the subject to be very familiar with programming , And can complete the related task efficiently . But in people with relatively limited experience , We don't seem to see any specialization yet ”.

In the same issue 《eLife》 In another related paper published on , From Johns Hopkins University (Johns Hopkins University) The team also reported that , Solving code problems activates the brain's multiple needs network , Not the language region .

The results show that , about “ Should programming be taught as a math based skill or a language based skill ” This is a problem , There is no clear answer yet . The researchers say , Maybe it's because , To a certain extent , The process of learning programming depends on the language , Also rely on multiple requirements system , But after learning , Programming is no longer dependent on the language regions of the brain .

Ivanova mentioned :“ The two schools hold different views —— Programming has to be combined with mathematics ; Programming must be combined with language . But for computer science educators , To teach code knowledge in the most effective way , It seems that we have to develop our own method .”

The study was conducted by the National Science Foundation of the United States (National Science Foundation)、 MIT Department of brain and cognitive science (Department of the Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT) And the McGovern Brain Institute (the Department of the Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT) Funded .

* This article only represents the author's personal views , Do not represent AI Any position of the technology base .

Link to the original text :

https://news.mit.edu/2020/brain-reading-computer-code-1215

This paper is written by AI Translation of science and technology base , Reprint please indicate the source

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