I'm a software developer so I'd prefer answers that are somewhat related to that field, but any general answer for this behavior is desirable.

Some testers of our products become conditioned to report too many bugs. Basically, they encounter enough bugs on a regular basis that they assume everything after that is a bug when it is most often (maybe 80-90% of the time) just user error.

Is there a term, word or phrase for this kind of conditioning, or false positive reporting?

  • 2
    What kind of reward does the tester receive? Do they ever receive rewards for the highest number of bug reports? Do they ever get penalized for bad reports?
    – rajah9
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 20:54

1 Answer 1


If the behavior of the testers is shaped by rewards and punishment, then B.F. Skinner called this Operant Conditioning:

Operant conditioning involves learning through the consequences of behavioral responses.

This would especially be true if they received positive reinforcement (praise, money, gift cards, raises, increased status) for reporting software defects, either correctly or incorrectly.

If you would like to cast the false-positive reporting in a negative light, you might call it a Pavlovian response. (This is also called classical conditioning. Think of dogs salivating when they hear a bell ringing. But please don't use the term in front of your testers.)

  • 1
    ~conditioned response~ is an easy way to put it
    – Tom22
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 7:12
  • The testers do not receive positive reinforcement. However, conditioned response seems to be a viable answer.
    – Alex
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 12:59
  • If they receive no positive reinforcement, then there is no conditioned response. However, I believe that they must be receiving some reinforcement. There has to be some incentive to put out ten poor bug reports instead of one genuine defect report. (The incentive might be as basic as winning an informal contest with other tester or a desire to appear busier than they actually are.)
    – rajah9
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 13:13
  • Here is an interesting test. Why not introduce a negative reinforcement (say, a leader board of how many defects get rejected by tester)? If Operant conditioning were occurring, one would expect the number of ersatz reports to drop.
    – rajah9
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 13:16

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