Informatics, TU Vienna

Understanding Understanding Source Code with Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Program comprehension is an important cognitive process that inherently eludes direct measurement.


Program comprehension is an important cognitive process that inherently eludes direct measurement. Thus, researchers are struggling with providing suitable programming languages, tools, or coding conventions to support developers in their everyday work. In this presentation, we describe a study in which we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure program comprehension. 

We discuss the requirements for fMRI studies and for program-comprehension measurement. We show that program comprehension is closely related to language comprehension and that fMRI studies to measure program comprehension have great potential to revolutionize program-comprehension research, programming-language and tool design, as well as education of beginning programmers.


Janet Siegmund works as a Post-doc at the Chair of Software Product Lines, University of Passau. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Magdeburg in 2012. Furthermore, she holds two master's degrees, one in Computer Science and one in Psychology. In her research, she focuses on program comprehension and its measurement, for example, with functional magnetic resonance imaging. In this cross-cutting research area, she regularly works with interdisciplinary researchers, including neurobiologists and linguists. Janet Siegmund is the co-author of more than 30 peer-reviewed journal, conference, and workshop publications. She regularly serves as program-committee member for conferences and workshops. Since 2014, she is in the steering committee of the International Conference on Program Comprehension. For her master's thesis, she received the research award from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Saxony Anhalt.

Contact person at the TU Vienna

Katja Hildebrandt: Tel. +43 1 588 01 – 188 04


This talk is organized by the Business Informatics Group at the Institute of Software Technology and Interactive Systems. Supported by the Austrian Computer Society (OCG) and the Center for Computer Science (Zentrum für Informatik Forschung, ZIF).