Brain and autonomic nervous system activity measurement in software engineering: A systematic literature review

Barbara Weber, Thomas Fischer, René Riedl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


In the past decade, brain and autonomic nervous system activity measurement received increasing attention in the study of software engineering (SE). This paper presents a systematic literature review (SLR) to survey the existing NeuroSE literature. Based on a rigorous search protocol, we identified 89 papers (hereafter denoted as NeuroSE papers). We analyzed these papers to develop a comprehensive understanding of who had published NeuroSE research and classified the contributions according to their type. The 47 articles presenting completed empirical research were analyzed in detail. The SLR revealed that the number of authors publishing NeuroSE research is still relatively small. The thematic focus so far has been on code comprehension, while code inspection, programming, and bug fixing have been less frequently studied. NeuroSE publications primarily used methods related to brain activity measurement (particularly fMRI and EEG), while methods related to the measurement of autonomic nervous system activity (e.g., pupil dilation, heart rate, skin conductance) received less attention. We also present details of how the empirical research was conducted, including stimuli and independent and dependent variables, and discuss implications for future research. The body of NeuroSE literature is still small. Yet, high quality contributions exist constituting a valuable basis for future studies.
Original languageEnglish
Article number110946
Pages (from-to)110946
JournalJournal of Systems and Software
Issue number2021
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


  • Brain and autonomic nervous system activity measurements
  • Electroencephalography (EEG)
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)
  • Heart- and skin-related measurements
  • Software engineering
  • Systematic literature review

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