Measuring affective states from technical debt: A psychoempirical software engineering experiment
Journal article, 2021

Context: Software engineering is a human activity. Despite this, human aspects are under-represented in technical debt research, perhaps because they are challenging to evaluate.
Objective: This study’s objective was to investigate the relationship between technical debt and affective states (feelings, emotions, and moods) from software practitioners.
Method: Forty participants (N = 40) from twelve companies took part in a mixed-methods approach, consisting of a repeated-measures (r = 5) experiment (n = 200), a survey, and semi-structured interviews. From the qualitative data, it is clear that technical debt activates a substantial portion of the emotional spectrum and is psychologically taxing. Further, the practitioners’ reactions to technical debt appear to fall in different levels of maturity. Results: The statistical analysis shows that different design smells (strong indicators of technical debt) negatively or positively impact affective states. Conclusions: We argue that human aspects in technical debt are important factors to consider, as they may result in, e.g., procrastination, apprehension, and burnout.

Bayesian statistical analysis

Empirical Study

Affective States

Technical Debt

Psychoempirical Software Engineering

Software Development


Jesper Olsson

University of Gothenburg

Erik Risfelt

University of Gothenburg

Terese Besker

Chalmers, Computer Science and Engineering (Chalmers), Software Engineering (Chalmers)

Antonio Martini

University of Oslo

Richard Torkar

University of Gothenburg

Stellenbosch University

Empirical Software Engineering

1382-3256 (ISSN) 1573-7616 (eISSN)

Vol. 26 5 105

Subject Categories

Social Psychology

Software Engineering

Information Systemes, Social aspects



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