I hate not understanding things. One of the things I don’t understand is what goes on in the brains of computer programmers, so I have decided to try to find out. Not in a metaphorical way. What I mean is that I want to understand how the brain learns and uses computer programming languages, and how learning and using programming languages affects the brain.

This isn’t as random as it sounds. I used to manage website developments for youth charities, but I recently threw in the towel to study developmental psychology full-time. I can’t code myself but I’ve spent a fair bit of time with people who do – and the more I learn about psychology, the more I wonder things like:

  • Does the brain learn and store programming languages in the same way as spoken languages?
  • Are certain kinds of people with certain traits drawn to programming, or does coding influence the way people think and feel?
  • Does learning to code improve children’s skills in other subjects or affect their ability to learn?
  • And is there an optimum age to start teaching kids to code?

The last question was prompted by a post from Emma Mulqueeny, of Young Rewired State. In it, she calls for coding to be part of the curriculum by Year 5, backed by a petition which argues that Year 8 is too late.

Recent criticism of computer science – or rather the lack of it – in the UK education system on the economic costs of a future, unskilled workforce. For example, Google CEO Eric Schmidt has accused the UK of “throwing away [its] great computer heritage”.

My interest is in whether there are wider cognitive benefits to teaching kids to code, and if so, whether there’s an optimal time to learn. As educational neuroscience is starting to shed light on how and when children’s most easily learn everything from language to morality, I’m interested in whether any of the existing evidence can inform the debate.

I recently attended the rather brilliant Coding for Kids barcamp, and pledged to do a piece of research on coding and cognition – which I’m just starting to plan.

In the meantime, the idea of this blog is to track down and share relevant research with a wider audience (research papers can be pretty heavy going and are often stuck behind paywalls). I hope that this will help to link people who code, and people who teach, with some interesting ideas coming from psychology and neuroscience.

I’ll be learning as I go along, so please feel free to challenge anything you read here – I don’t claim to have all of the questions, let alone the answers! Any ideas or feedback would be very welcome.

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