A Glimpse of Expert Programmers' Mental Imagery

Marian Petre
Centre for Informatics Education Research
Faculty of Mathematics and Computing
Open University
Milton Keynes, U.K.


Alan F. Blackwell
(then at) MRC Applied Psychology Unit
Cambridge, UK

(now at alan.blackwell@cl.cam.ac.uk)

In S. Wiedenbeck & J. Scholtz (Eds.), Proceedings of the 7th Workshop on Empirical Studies of Programmers. New York: ACM Press, pp. 109-123.


There is widespread anecdotal evidence that expert programmers make use of visual mental images when they are designing programs. In this study, expert programmers were directly questioned regarding the nature of their mental representations while they were engaged in a design task. This investigative technique was used with the explicit intention of eliciting introspective reports of mental imagery. The resulting transcripts displayed a considerable number of common elements. These suggest that software design shares many characteristics of more concrete design disciplines. They also provide promising areas for further investigation of software development support tools and design strategies.

The original text of this paper can now be viewed online. However most readers will be more interested in the revised version of the paper, which was published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies in 1999.

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