„The Centipede’s Dilemma“ is a short poem that has lent its name to a psychological effect called the centipede effect or centipede’s dilemma. The centipede effect occurs when a normally automatic or unconscious activity is disrupted by consciousness of it or reflection on it. For example, a golfer thinking too closely about their swing or someone thinking too much about how they knot their tie may find their performance of the task impaired. The effect is also known as hyper-reflection or Humphrey’s law after the English psychologist George Humphrey (1889–1966), who propounded it in 1923. As he wrote of the poem, „This is a most psychological rhyme. It contains a profound truth which is illustrated daily in the lives of all of us“. (Quelle: wikipedia)
Humphrey’s law refers generally to automated skills. In view on learning and developing skills can be assumed, that even motion learning transfers can be blocked.
One day a frog was sunning himself on a lily pad when a centipede came walking by. The frog was immediately entranced by the centipede’s flowing and graceful movement across the pad. He marveled at what an amazing ability the insect had to both time and co-ordinate all of those legs so that the end result was so smooth and precise. While he was a great leaper and strong swimmer, the frog couldn’t help but feel a little jealous of the centipede’s skills. After all, his job was so easy, having to coordinate only two legs and two arms, while the centipede’s was so much more complicated, having to balance one hundred.
Hoping to be enlightened by the insect’s tremendous skill, the frog said to the centipede: “Kind sir. I am most impressed by your flowing athleticism and your ability to closely synchronize all those legs of yours. I must admit that I myself could never coordinate 100 legs the fine way that you do. Would I be out of line if I asked you, how in the world do you do that?”
Hearing the compliment from the frog, the centipede stopped his movement and began to beam with pride. He had never bothered to think about how he moved because it was just something that he did naturally. He replied: “Why thank you sincerely, Mr. Frog. I do appreciate your kind feedback. However, I need to spend a moment thinking about how I move before I can share with you my secrets. But now that you mention it, I must modestly say that my ability to coordinate all of those legs at once is truly an amazing feat.”
The centipede then began to think very hard about his hundred legs, the order that he had to move each one in and how he timed these movements so precisely. The more he thought about it, the more he marveled at his own ability. However, the more he thought about it, the more complicated the whole process seemed and he couldn’t quite figure out exactly how he was able to do it.
Then he thought, “perhaps if I walk a little bit, I can pay very close attention to how I move and then I will be able to more fully answer the frog’s question.” So he explained his intention to the frog and then got up and began to move. However, no sooner had he taken one or two steps that his legs became entangled in each other and he tripped. Slightly embarrassed, he pulled himself back up and once again set out to try and figure out exactly how he was able to coordinate his movements. Once again his legs became entangled and he again fell to the pad.
Now the centipede’s embarrassment merged with a growing sense of frustration. How was it even possible that he could trip? He had never once tripped in his life and here he had just tripped twice in a row! He quickly righted himself and tried to figure out how best to regain his balance and coordination. He wondered if he was moving his legs out of sequence, or maybe too fast, or perhaps, too slow. He thought about the order of his movement and whether he should start off with the feet on the left side of his body or the right side. However, the more he thought, the more confused he got. This time, after just one step, he went down hard on his face.
His embarrassment and frustration turned to panic. He began to wonder what might happen if he couldn’t ever walk again without falling. He immediately got angry, chiding himself for not being able to do something as basic as walking. However, his frustration and anger did nothing to help him walk. In fact, those feelings seemed to make things much worse. The poor centipede was now an uncoordinated mess, falling all around the lily pad. Meanwhile the frog looked on in curious amusement. Soon the centipede couldn’t even stand up!
He quickly thought about what had gotten him into this mess in the first place and inwardly cursed the frog and his stupid question. He suddenly realized that his own self-consciousness about walking was the one thing that was preventing him from walking. His anger boiled over and he yelled at the frog, “With all due respect Mr. Frog. Don’t ever ask me how I walk again. I do NOT know how I do it and I don’t WANT TO KNOW!” Whereupon he got up without thinking and quickly and smoothly ran off the pad headed for home.