Programming under the influence: On the effect of Heat, Noise, and Alcohol on Novice programmers

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When humans are exposed to environmental and physical stressors, cognitive performance is degraded. Even though several studies have examined the effect of various stressors individually, there are limited studies comparing the impact of different types. This study examined the effects of Heat, Noise, and Alcohol on cognitive performance during two programming tasks to quantify the impact of stressors on novice programmers. The experiment enrolled N=100 university student volunteers for a between-subjects experiment. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions (M=25): a room with at 38 °C (100 °F), a room with conversational noise around 80 dBA, a blood alcohol content of 1.0‰, or a base condition. Two programming tasks were administered: one analysis task (reading programs) and one synthesis task (writing programs), taking about half an hour to complete in total. Short-term exposure to heat appears to not significantly affect neither reading nor writing programs; conversational noise significantly impacts analytical tasks but not synthesis tasks; while alcohol significantly worsens performance in both analytical and synthesis tasks. To provide a tangible summary for decision-makers able to influence conditions for novice programmers, an approximated comparison is provided, which “translates” negative cognitive effects of heat, noise, and alcohol to one another.
Original languageEnglish
Article number111887
JournalJournal of Systems and Software
Issue number111887
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Software engineering
  • Environmental stressors
  • Programming
  • Physical stressors
  • Cognitive performance


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