Why Add When You Can Subtract?

Sometimes Subtraction Makes More Sense

Why Add When You Can Subtract?

Elizabeth Dietz , Contributor

Picture a bridge fabricated from Legos. One side has three support pieces, the opposite two. How would you stabilize the bridge?

Most people would add a bit in order that there are three supports on all sides, a brand new study suggests. But why not remove a bit so either side has two supports instead? It seems that getting people to subtract — whether a Lego block, ingredients during a recipe or words in an essay — requires reminders and rewards, researchers report April 7 in Nature.

This default to addition isn’t limited to assembling blocks, cooking and writing. Rather, thinking in pluses rather than minuses could well contribute to modern-day excesses like cluttered homes, institutional procedure and even an overburdened planet, says behavioral scientist Benjamin Converse of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “We’re missing a whole class of solutions.”

He and his colleagues first observed the behavior after they asked 1,585 study participants to tackle eight puzzles and problems that might be solved by adding or removing some things. for instance, one puzzle required shading or erasing squares on a grid to create a pattern symmetric. In another, individuals could add or subtract items on a travel itinerary for the optimal experience. Across all experiments, the overwhelming majority of participants chose addition over subtraction. as an example, out of 94 participants who completed the grid task, 73 added squares, 18 subtracted squares and another three simply reworked the initial number of squares.
The researchers hypothesized that almost all participants defaulted to adding because they did not even give some thought to subtraction. So, through a series of controlled experiments, the team nudged participants toward the sign.

In one experiment, the team offered 197 people wandering around a crowded university quad a dollar to unravel a puzzle. Participants viewed a Lego structure within which a figurine was standing atop a platform with an outsized pillar behind her. Atop that pillar, one block in one corner supported a flat roof. Researchers asked the participants to stabilize the roof to avoid squashing the figurine. About half the participants were told: “Each piece you add costs 10 cents.” Even thereupon financial penalty, only 40 out of 98 participants thought to get rid of the destabilizing block and just rest the roof on top of the wide pillar. The researchers gave the remaining participants a more explicit message: “Each piece you add costs 10 cents but removing pieces is free.” That cue prompted 60 out of 99 participants to get rid of the block.

Lego Block Tower With Roof
In an experiment, participants had to stabilize a Lego roof over a figurine, represented by the piece of paper. the general public added pieces while every bit cost 10 cents. only researchers specified that subtracting pieces was free did more people remove the destabilizing block and rest the roof on top of the wide pillar.

Practice did help participants call to mind that elusive sign, the researchers found. A variation on the grid experiment, where subtraction yielded the superior solution, showed that three practice runs leading up to the particular task prompted more participants to subtract than those that solved the task without practice.

“When people try and make something better … they don’t think that they’ll remove or subtract unless they’re somehow prompted to try to to so,” says behavioral scientist Gabrielle Adams, also at the University of Virginia.

Conversely, bombarding participants with unrelated information decreased their likelihood of subtracting (SN: 5/24/20). People add even more once they experience information overload, those experiments showed.

On an intuitive level, people recognize that subtraction comes less naturally than addition, the authors say. Hence the adoption of adages, like “less is more” and Marie Kondo’s now infamous mantra to urge obviate those things that fail to spark joy.

But curbing our love of excess will take quite nudges and a transparent mind, says Hal Arkes, a judgement and decision-making researcher at Ohio State University who wasn’t committed the study. Organizational and political leaders, especially, abhor cutting the fat. “If you add more people and more dollars, you won’t make any enemies, you’ll just make friends,” Arkes says. “Subtraction has serious downsides.”

For more details please visit – https://www.sciencealert.com/here-s-why-our-brains-always-want-to-solve-problems-by-adding-not-taking-away for more information.