The Daily WTF as the optimum way to improve programming ability?

I was listening to a fascinating piece on NPR's Science Friday called The Science of Getting a 'Yes'. The guest speaker, Robert Cialdini, noted that when training firefighters, giving case studies of past mistakes by firefighters was more effective than giving case studies of correct decisions. The point was that negative information is more effective at galvanizing human behavior than positive information.

Maybe we understand this implicitly, because it seems that things like The Daily WTF (self described as "curious perversions in information technology") are more popular in terms of readership than things like Beautiful Code (subtitled "Leading Programmers Explain How They Think"). I used to have this nagging feeling that I enjoyed seeing code by people who were actually worse programmers than me due purely to schadenfreude. It's nice to think that laughing at lousy code actually might make me a better programmer. It also might explain the viewer stats to my posts containing code…

Another interesting tidbit was that social conflict activates a part of the brain that is also associated with pain, while conflict with instructions from a computer didn't activate that part of the brain. Maybe that's why computers seem so much more reasonable and easy to argue with than people.

1 comment to The Daily WTF as the optimum way to improve programming ability?

  • Karla

    I was told a version this when I studied abroad in Japan. The theory was that if you made a mistake that led to a huge social gaffe you would be determined never to do it again. I know it works for me! My mistakes have left some painful memories but I’ve undoubtedly become a better speaker because of it.

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