Beware the Normative Fallacy

05/06/2020 ∙ by Christoph Becker, et al. ∙ 0

Behavioral research can provide important insights for SE practices. But in performing it, many studies of SE are committing a normative fallacy - they misappropriate normative and prescriptive theories for descriptive purposes. The evidence from reviews of empirical studies of decision making in SE suggests that the normative fallacy may is common. This article draws on cognitive psychology and behavioral economics to explains this fallacy. Because data collection is framed by narrow and empirically invalid theories, flawed assumptions baked into those theories lead to misleading interpretations of observed behaviors and ultimately, to invalid conclusions and flawed recommendations. Researchers should be careful not to rely solely on engineering methods to explain what people do when they do engineering. Instead, insist that descriptive research be based on validated descriptive theories, listen carefully to skilled practitioners, and only rely on validated findings to prescribe what they should do.

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