16 August 2014

Wired Science: “Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos”

As with all high level tasks, your brain generalizes simple, component parts (like turning letters into words and words into sentences) so it can focus on more complex tasks (like combining sentences into complex ideas). We don’t catch every detail, we’re not like computers or NSA databases, said Stafford. Rather, we take in sensory information and combine it with what we expect, and we extract meaning. When we’re reading other peoples’ work, this helps us arrive at meaning faster by using less brain power. When we’re proof reading our own work, we know the meaning we want to convey. Because we expect that meaning to be there, it’s easier for us to miss when parts (or all) of it are absent. The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.

Nick Stockton

Interesting explanation! When writing, I also feel like I have the story or idea in my head and am struggling to shape it into the best written form. It usually helps to take a break, switch to something entirely different, then come back to the draft to iron out typos and rephrase it for better clarity and concision.

As any typist knows, hitting keys happens too fast to divert a finger when it’s in the process of making a mistake. But, Stafford says this evolved from the same mental mechanism that helped our ancestors’ brains make micro adjustments when they were throwing spears.

So the next time you have to type a boring report for your boss, just imagine you’re preparing for a hunt; that should make it more exciting!

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