Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

What Happens in a Programmer’s Head?

23.04.2014

An international team of experts around the scientists Dr Janet Siegmund and Professor Sven Apel of the University of Passau recently addressed this question in their research. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, they sought to unravel the mystery of program comprehension, why language skills play a crucial role in programming − and what can be done to improve programming education and future programming languages.

In the quest of understanding how software developers think during programming, an international team of scientists from Germany and the United States observed programmers going about their everyday task of program comprehension while lying inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner.

By measuring changes in the blood oxygen level in the brain, the fMRI scans allowed researchers to draw conclusions about which brain areas were active during the exercise. The study was conducted in close collaboration with fMRI experts from Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology in Magdeburg, Germany, and is the first of its kind in computer science and programming research. One of its key findings is that comprehending computer programs activates the same brain areas as understanding natural language.

“We now have first evidence that learning a programming language is closely related to learning a foreign language,” said Sven Apel. “Until now, scientific debates about the suitability of a particular programming language or method of programming education invariably relied on indirect observations and, as a result, always involved a certain amount of speculation.”

In addition to providing insights into the way similar studies could be designed and carried out in the future, the study’s results show new ways of how programming education can be improved in the long term. “Our study opens the door to a whole new world of possibilities of making learning to program more intuitive, so as to inspire more people – particularly women and schoolchildren – to learn about this technical area,” Janet Siegmund explained.

The results of this research may even lead to the development of more refined software tools and programming languages that tie in with software developers’ natural way of thinking – and make them more efficient in their day-to-day work. “We hope that software will be less prone to errors in future, which will significantly reduce the cost of developing and maintaining software. Today, software maintenance costs – i.e. avoiding and fixing errors such as the notorious Heartbleed bug – account for up to 80% of the total costs incurred throughout the entire software lifecycle,” said Janet Siegmund.

As the challenges involved in this project could only be tackled by an interdisciplinary network of scientists, the team was comprised of a number of researchers working in various different disciplines and countries: Janet Siegmund and Sven Apel (University of Passau, Germany), André Brechmann and Anja Bethmann (Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology, Magdeburg, Germany), Christian Kästner (Carnegie Mellon University, USA), Chris Parnin (Georgia Institute of Technology, USA), Thomas Leich (Metop GmbH, Magdeburg, Germany), and Gunter Saake (University of Magdeburg, Germany).

“The idea for this project arose during a workshop of researchers from the University of Magdeburg and the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology,” said Janet Siegmund. “I found working at the intersection between computer science, psychology, and neurobiology immediately very fascinating”. Janet Siegmund received her Ph.D. from the University of Magdeburg and joined the University of Passau’s Chair of Software Product Lines as a postdoctoral research fellow in August 2013.

The Chair was established as part of the highly respected Heisenberg programme of the German Research Foundation (DFG). Following the publication of the results at the International Conference on Software Engineering, the leading international conference in its field, the research has received considerable attention from the international academic community, as it is the first study to provide solid evidence in an area that until now had to resort to indirect measures.

For further information, contact Dr Janet Siegmund, Faculty of Computer Science and Mathematics, University of Passau (e-mail: siegmunj@fim.uni-passau.de, phone: +49 851 509 3239) or the Media Relations Section of the University of Passau (phone: +49 851 509 1439).

Weitere Informationen:

Link to the original study: http://www.infosun.fim.uni-passau.de/cl/publications/docs/SKA+14.pdf

Katrina Jordan | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

Further reports about: Neurobiology Software fMRI programmers programming software developers

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht New microchip demonstrates efficiency and scalable design
23.08.2016 | Princeton University, Engineering School

nachricht Computer programming made easier
16.08.2016 | National Science Foundation

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: X-ray optics on a chip

Waveguides are widely used for filtering, confining, guiding, coupling or splitting beams of visible light. However, creating waveguides that could do the same for X-rays has posed tremendous challenges in fabrication, so they are still only in an early stage of development.

In the latest issue of Acta Crystallographica Section A: Foundations and Advances , Sarah Hoffmann-Urlaub and Tim Salditt report the fabrication and testing of...

Im Focus: Piggyback battery for microchips: TU Graz researchers develop new battery concept

Electrochemists at TU Graz have managed to use monocrystalline semiconductor silicon as an active storage electrode in lithium batteries. This enables an integrated power supply to be made for microchips with a rechargeable battery.

Small electrical gadgets, such as mobile phones, tablets or notebooks, are indispensable accompaniments of everyday life. Integrated circuits in the interiors...

Im Focus: UCI physicists confirm possible discovery of fifth force of nature

Light particle could be key to understanding dark matter in universe

Recent findings indicating the possible discovery of a previously unknown subatomic particle may be evidence of a fifth fundamental force of nature, according...

Im Focus: Wi-fi from lasers

White light from lasers demonstrates data speeds of up to 2 GB/s

A nanocrystalline material that rapidly makes white light out of blue light has been developed by KAUST researchers.

Im Focus: Every atom counts

Malignant cancer cells not only proliferate faster than most body cells. They are also more dependent on the most important cellular garbage disposal unit, the proteasome, which degrades defective proteins. Therapies for some types of cancer exploit this dependence: Patients are treated with inhibitors, which block the proteasome. The ensuing pile-up of junk overwhelms the cancer cell, ultimately killing it. Scientists have now succeeded in determining the human proteasome’s 3D structure in unprecedented detail and have deciphered the mechanism by which inhibitors block the proteasome. Their results will pave the way to develop more effective proteasome inhibitors for cancer therapy.

In order to understand how cellular machines such as the proteasome work, it is essential to determine their three-dimensional structure in detail. With its...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

A week of excellence: 22 of the world’s best computer scientists and mathematicians in Heidelberg

12.08.2016 | Event News

Towards the connected, automated and electrified automobiles: AMAA conference in Brussels

02.08.2016 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2016: 7th Conference on the Art, Technology and Theory of Digital Games

29.07.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

New microchip demonstrates efficiency and scalable design

23.08.2016 | Information Technology

Genetic Regulation of the Thymus Function Identified

23.08.2016 | Life Sciences

Biomass turnover time in ecosystems is halved by land use

23.08.2016 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>