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How People Misunderstand Their Lessons

This is just a random brain spew about how people learn prompted by a frustrating experience playing WoW today.

We were fighting the last boss in Naxxramas (one of the highest level dungeons currently). It's a tough fight and I expect that going in. There are lots of sources of damage, everyone has to be on their toes with fast reactions. We failed on the first attempt just barely. He has 14,600,000 health and when the last of us died he only had 40,000 left. It's the kind of failure that was just a roll of the dice. If even one thing more thing had gone our way that would have made enough difference and we would have succeeded. So, we tried again. Someone made a HUGE mistake though and it ended up killing everyone.

Here's where the moment of interest happens...

The people decide that the problem is that we don't have enough healers. So they have one of the damage dealers switch out their equipment and start healing instead. I tried to explain to them that another healer wouldn't be able to overcome the problem that killed everyone, but they wouldn't listen to me. Advice was given to the person who killed us all to avoid that in the next try.

The next try was successful.

In the minds of all of those not paying attention they have learned the lesson that more healing was the solution (meaning that 3 healers are needed or that the 2 healers already there were bad at their jobs). The next time these people attempt something difficult that is the solution they will choose.

The problem is that it wasn't the reason for success. The reason for success was that the mistake that killed us the 2nd time was avoided and we simply performed a little bit better than the first time. I have an addon that tracks the performance of people in the group so it can be analyzed after the fact. In doing so, I discovered that the extra healer they brought provided effectively 0 benefit. Since the new healer was an inexperienced and ill-prepared healer almost all of healing spells landed on people who were already at 100% health. The other healers reacted faster and provided more potent healing. So, out of the approximately 300,000 points of healing he did 295,000 of it was wasted.

It's highly unlikely though that anyone in that group was watching closely enough to understand the causes for success and will therefore learn the false lesson.

It's a lot of rambling, but I'm continually intrigued by the process of decision making and learning. These guys will think they have learned and gotten better... when in reality they are doing less damage, wasting more mana (magical energy) and taking longer to kill their targets. One one hand, it's still a victory, right? That's where the false positive reinforcement comes from. On the other hand, when they are presented with more difficult fights they will run out of time, run out of mana, etc. This fight isn't anywhere near the hardest fight in the game and a whole new section of the game is about to open up which will be even harder.

They may never even know how much failure was contained within their success.

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