Characteristics of mental representations in novices and experts in Java

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University of New Brunswick


How programmers mentally represent code is of interest to researchers who study program comprehension and design new programming languages. In 1993 Wiedenbeck et al. conducted a study on characteristics of mental representation using a procedural language, and five characteristics were introduced. We designed an experiment using JAVA to determine whether programmers using an object-oriented language have the same characteristics as programmers using a procedural language. We considered two alternative definition of expertise: expertise as years of experience and expertise determined by self-assessment. We used the same Multivariate and Univariate analysis as the previous study and in addition used Mixed Effect Logistic Modeling to analyze the results. We found a significant difference between experts and novices defined using self-assessment in Linear Modeling. Our results did not fully agree with the previous research. Our study supports the existence of recurring basic patterns and well-connected representations. However, we could not find support for hierarchical structure, grounding in the program text, and found an unexpected result in mapping code to goals. Our study had several limitations, such as the Corona-virus pandemic that caused the limit in the number of participants, artificiality of the tasks, and a lack of professional programmers in the experiment sample.