One woman's path through doula training, childrearing, and a computer science Ph. D. program

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Action slips

When I was the teaching assistant for the undergraduate human-computer interaction class, the question that sparked the most discussion was about action slips. In this post, I answer the question, "What is an action slip?"

Freudian slips

This question brings us back to Freud. Remember Freudian slips? A Freudian slip is a term used to describe saying something you did not mean to say (and, of course, it is usually dirty or has sexual connections). For example, you meant to say "Let's go play in the park," but instead, you said, "Let's go kiss in the dark."

A Freudian slip is when you lay one thing and mean your mother. Er, it's when you say one thing and mean another.

Action slips

An action slip is like a Freudian slip... with your whole body. It is when you mean to do one thing, but end up doing something completely different. For example, you are emptying the coffee grinds from your coffee maker. You have to separate the grinds from their container. The container is in your right hand, the grinds are in your left hand. You mean to throw the grinds into the trash, but accidentally throw the container instead (or you throw both).

Or, you are driving on the freeway on your way to visit a friend, but take the exit to go to work, because that is what you are used to doing.

Or, you are clearing the table after dinner, and putting the leftovers into the refrigerator: butter, juice, rice, napkins, forks...

What is not an action slip

It is not an action slip when you make a typo while typing. It is not an action slip when your finger accidentally brushes against the hang-up button on your phone while you are talking. It is not an action slip when you stub your toe.

Characteristics of an action slip

An action slip must have an intended action --- something you meant to do --- and an unintended result --- something you did instead of the intended action, out of habit or incorrect muscle memory.

Anyway, just wanted to clear that up.

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