Your Brain on Code

 Is reading code like solving math problems? or is it more like reading in general? Neither, it turns out.

MIT researcher Eveline Fedorenko and team placed coders in a functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) scanner, and showed them code in a programming language in which they were proficient, then asked them questions about the code.  

Although coding languages have many things in common with human languages, like meaning units and syntax, the fMRI showed that reading code did not significantly activate the regions of the brain associated with language. These language regions of the brain, including Broca's area, are primarily in the left hemisphere. 

Instead, the distributed parts of the brain known as the multiple demand (MD) network were activated across the brain. These regions had previously been shown to be activated for complex mental tasks like solving math problems, or doing crossword puzzles. However, the regions activated for the coders were not identical to those activated for math problems. Whereas math and logic problems tend to activate multiple demand regions of the left hemisphere, coding appears to activate both the left MD region and the right MD region. 

The lead author of the study, Anna Ivanova, said “Understanding computer code seems to be its own thing. It’s not the same as language, and it’s not the same as math and logic,” 

In short, coding is a unique cognitive load, but you knew that already, didn't you?

Check out the published article here:


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