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There seems to be a common view in programming / software engineering:

“because it’s boring, it’s very easy to make errors”

And then the solution to this is often to introduce some level(s) of abstraction to avoid what is classed as boring.

What's the evidence to justify this?


The quote is from lecturer of a Haskell course I am taking right now, https://afp-2017.github.io/index.html .

A quick Google reveals similar statements, such as

Repetition easily induces mistakes

from "Secure Development for Mobile Apps: How to Design and Code Secure Mobile Applications with PHP and JavaScript" by J.D. Glaser

I think I have heard similar statements from professional software engineers, relating to justifying more levels of abstraction in code. However, I am unable to think of specific other instances.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to CogSci. I must say it does sound plausible; boring --> loss of interest --> loss of concentration --> less vigilance --> errors $\endgroup$ – AliceD Aug 22 '17 at 10:09
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    $\begingroup$ As @AliceD mentioned in his comment, it is plausible and along with his route to errors, there can be complacency especially with repetition. Complacency can lead to errors when unforeseen differences in circumstances arise. I will be interested in anything which comes out of this but I do wonder if a lot of the answer will be primarily opinion based $\endgroup$ – Chris Rogers Aug 22 '17 at 17:36
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Short answer
There is scientific evidence that boredom can increase error rates.

Background
My gut feeling would tell me that boredom decreases vigilance, which then would increase the chance of errors. Vigilance being defined as sustained attention (Oken, 2006).

And indeed, vigilance has been directly linked to boredom, and more specifically, boredom decreases the amount of vigilance. In fact, an accepted measure of vigilance is the error rate in task performance (Pattyn et al., 2008), based on earlier observations that motor task performance decreases with lower vigilance levels (MacWorth, 1968).

Another way to measure alertness or vigilance is with EEG. Generally, low EEG frequencies are associated with sleepiness and reduces alertness (Delta band with 0 - 4 Hz oscillations), while high frequencies are associated with alert states (Gamma band at >30 Hz). Figure 1 shows that EEGs with low frequencies are associated with higher error rates (Oken, 2006).

EEG vs error rate
Fig. 1. Error rates plotted against EEG spectral frequencies. As time went by, the subject lost attentiveness, EEG frequencies went down and error rates went up. source: (Oken, 2006)

References
- MacWorth, Can J Psychol (1964); 18: 209-23
- Oken et al., Clin Neurophysiol (2006); 117(9): 1885–901
- Pattyn et al., Physiology & Behavior (2008); 93(1–2): 69-378

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