Confirmation Bias in Software Development and Testing: An Analysis of the Effects of Company Size, Experience and Reasoning Skills

Calikli, Gul; Aslan, Berna and Bener, Ayse (2010). Confirmation Bias in Software Development and Testing: An Analysis of the Effects of Company Size, Experience and Reasoning Skills. In: Workshop on Psychology of Programming Interest Group (PPIG), 19-21 Sep 2010, Leganes, Madrid, Spain.

URL: http://www.ppig.org/sites/default/files/2010-PPIG-...

Abstract

During all levels of software testing, the goal should be to fail the code to discover software defects and hence to increase software quality. However, software developers and testers are more likely to choose positive tests rather than negative ones. This is due to the phenomenon called confirmation bias which is defined as the tendency to verify one’s own hypotheses rather than trying to refute them. In this work, we aimed at identifying the factors that may affect confirmation bias levels of software developers and testers. We have investigated the effects of company size, experience and reasoning skills on bias levels. We prepared pen-and-paper and interactive tests based on two tasks from cognitive psychology literature. During pen-and-paper test, subjects had to test given hypotheses, whereas interactive test required both hypotheses generation and testing. These tests were conducted on employees of one large scale telecommunications company, three small and medium scale software companies and graduate computer engineering students resulting in a total of eighty-eight subjects. Results showed regardless of experience and company size, abilities such as logical reasoning and strategic hypotheses testing are differentiating factors in low confirmation bias levels. Therefore, education and/or training programs that emphasize mathematical reasoning techniques are useful towards production of high quality software. Moreover, in order to investigate the relationship between code defect density and confirmation bias of software developers, we performed an analysis among developers who are involved with a software project in a large scale telecommunications company. We also analyzed the effect of confirmation bias during software testing phase. Our results showed that there is a direct correlation between confirmation bias and defect proneness of the code.

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