Primers or Reminders? The Effects of Existing Review Comments on Code Review

Published in Proceedings of the 42nd International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE), 2020

Recommended citation: Davide Spadini, Gül Çalikli, Alberto Bacchelli. (2020). "Primers or Reminders? The Effects of Existing Code Review Comments on Code Review." Proceedings of the 42nd International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE). 1171-1182.

One main novelty of this paper is the usage of a psychological setup that measures developers’ proneness to availability bias and triangulates them with developers’ subjective experience during code review.

ABSTRACT: In contemporary code review, the comments put by reviewers on a specific code change are immediately visible to the other reviewers involved. Could this visibility prime new reviewers’ attention (due to the human’s proneness to availability bias), thus biasing the code review outcome? In this study, we investigate this topic by conducting a controlled experiment with 85 developers who perform a code review and a psychological experiment. With the psychological experiment, we find that ≈70% of participants are prone to availability bias. However, when it comes to the code review, our experiment results show that participants are primed only when the existing code review comment is about a type of bug that is not normally considered; when this comment is visible, participants are more likely to find another occurrence of this type of bug. Moreover, this priming effect does not influence reviewers’ likelihood of detecting other types of bugs. Our findings suggest that the current code review practice is effective because existing review comments about bugs in code changes are not negative primers, rather positive reminders for bugs that would otherwise be overlooked during code review.

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Recommended citation: Davide Spadini, Gül Çalikli, Alberto Bacchelli. (2020). “Primers or Reminders? The Effects of Existing Code Review Comments on Code Review.” Proceedings of The 42nd International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE). 1171-1182.