Friday, 14 January 2011

Remember you’re a Tester

I want you to remember one word in the following list:

Dragon Fly
Crane Fly

My previous post was about debrief and how important it is to testing.

The problem I have come across during debrief has been trying to remember all the things that happened during the day or during the session(s). Maybe this is a, me getting older thing, and my memory is going.

One thing whilst I was reading recently about cognitive bias seemed to be a bias that could be helpful both during testing and during the debrief sessions. This was called the Von Restorff Effect and basically it was how our brains remember things that stand out.

The above link uses an example of a list of words in which one word is in a different colour, our brains are more likely to remember the word that is a different colour and stands out.

You might be asking what connection does this have to testing.

Michael Bolton via twitter pointed me towards Adam White who has an interest in the Von Restorff effect. In his blog Adam states the following:

I use the Von Restorff effect in testing all the time. I frequently notice what doesn’t belong and it tends to be what I remember the most.

Part of our skills as a tester is noticing:

  • When something does not appear to fit – we notice
  • When something appears out of place – we notice
  • When something appears not quite right – we notice.

Could it be that testers have a strong Von Restorff cognitive bias? Maybe this is the missing ‘thing’ that people say testers have. You can not describe it but you just know it is a skill you have.

Going back to this article…..

How can this help during debrief?

My thoughts on this are that to remember something that is important for the debrief when we are working within SBTM. We should make a note of what it is and ensure we highlight it in a different way to make it stand out and ensure that we remember it later. Maybe some people already do this (the use of the highlighter pen).

Maybe the excellent tool for recording sessions, Rapid Reporter by Shmuel Gershon be expanded. Can it have an option to highlight certain things to make them stand out. I know it can do rtf and bold but that is not enough for me. I need highlighting and colouring, plus an option to do freehand doodles.

Why doodles you may ask?

One of the side effects of the Von Restorff effects is that we remember words better if associated with a picture. If I need to remember a URL is not working I would doddle a chain with a link missing. Or an interface that is failing to communicate I could draw a face with a plaster over the mouth. Just little things that help me remember problems that occurred. By the way I am rubbish at drawing not on the same level as the cartoon tester.

To conclude this article I think as testers we already have a cognitive bias to remembering things that stand out but within testers it appears we notice these things a lot more, either via our continuing training or a natural skill we possess. We need to ensure that important things we need to remember for debriefs are made to stand out during our testing sessions to ensure we do not forget them.

Which word did you remember from the list at the beginning?

Was it termite?


  1. Hi John,

    I remembered termite - but I don't know if it was due to the colour or the relative font size compared to the rest of the list - is there a bias based around relative size in a list?

  2. While I was going through the checklist of 508 compliance, one of the point talks about using "Colors" to specify a meaning or to grab attention.

    Example: I did not read this whole post, but I just scrolled down and "Termite" in bigger font size and the color were in my mind. After reading the comment of "Simon Morley" I see that even I remember "Termite" text compared to others.

    I would say it's a mixture of size and color. Because, just a same size with bold text wouldn't have made such a difference I guess.

    Good post, John.


  3. The Von Restorff has been used for a long time within the advertising industry where a lot of money have been spent on studies to see what needs to be done to ensure people remember their products more.

    The point of the Von Restorff effect is that something stands out compared to what is around it. So the colour, size, type is not really relevant. What is important is that it is different from all the rest making us notice it more and log it within our brains as a stand out memory.

    Another group of people who use this technique are showman, tricksters, magicians who use imagery to make us think of something and then pretend to read our minds later by telling us what we are thinking.

    It is an fascinating area of social science which can both be useful and dangerous.

  4. "Part of our skills as a tester is noticing:
    - When something does not appear to fit – we notice
    - When something appears out of place – we notice
    - When something appears not quite right – we notice."

    Reminds me of @CartoonTesters -