Temporal Discounting in Software Engineering: A Replication Study

Fabian Fagerholm, Christoph Becker, Alexander Chatzigeorgiou, Stefanie Betz, Leticia Duboc, Birgit Penzenstadler, Rahul Mohanani, Colin C. Venters

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionScientificpeer-review


Background: Many decisions made in Software Engineering practices are intertemporal choices: trade-offs in time between closer options with potential short-term benefit and future options with potential long-term benefit. However, how software professionals make intertemporal decisions is not well understood. Aim: This paper investigates how shifting time frames influence preferences in software projects in relation to purposefully selected background factors. Method: We investigate temporal discounting by replicating a questionnaire-based observational study. The replication uses a changed-population and -experimenter design to increase the internal and external validity of the original results. Results: The results of this study confirm the occurrence of temporal discounting in samples of both professional and student participants from different countries and demonstrate strong variance in discounting between study participants. We found that professional experience influenced discounting. Participants with broader professional experience exhibited less discounting than those with narrower experience. Conclusions: The results provide strong empirical support for the relevance and importance of temporal discounting in SE and the urgency of targeted interdisciplinary research to explore the underlying mechanisms and their theoretical and practical implications. The results suggest that technical debt management could be improved by increasing the breadth of experience available for critical decisions with long-term impact. In addition, the present study provides a methodological basis for replicating temporal discounting studies in software engineering.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings - 13th ACM/IEEE International Symposium on Empirical Software Engineering and Measurement, ESEM 2019
ISBN (Electronic)9781728129686
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2019
MoE publication typeA4 Article in a conference publication
EventInternational Symposium on Empirical Software Engineering and Measurement - Porto de Galinhas, Brazil
Duration: 19 Sep 201920 Sep 2019
Conference number: 13

Publication series

NameInternational Symposium on Empirical Software Engineering and Measurement
ISSN (Print)1949-3770
ISSN (Electronic)1949-3789


ConferenceInternational Symposium on Empirical Software Engineering and Measurement
Abbreviated titleESEM
CityPorto de Galinhas


  • behavioral software engineering
  • decision making
  • intertemporal choice
  • judgment
  • psychology
  • questionnaire
  • technical debt
  • technical debt management
  • temporal discounting

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