Why Does the Human Brain Overlook Subtractive Changes?

Have you ever thought why our brain misses opportunities to develop through subtraction, reduction, simplification?

A new study explains why people rarely look at the strategy of “pulling out” as a solution to a situation, object, or idea that needs improvement in any context. Instead, we almost always prefer to add some elements, whether helpful or not.

Why do we love to exaggerate when we can be less, more effective, or pinpoint with less?

Nature’s University of Virginia researchers shed light on the subject in a new article on the cover. Moreover, the team’s findings reveal a fundamental reason why people struggle with overwhelming programs, institutions prevent bureaucracy from proliferating, and what is particularly interesting to researchers, humanity consumes the planet’s resources.

“This is happening in engineering design, which is my main area of ​​interest,” says Leidy Klotz, Copenhaver Associate Professor of Engineering Systems and Environment. “But this also happens in writing activities, cooking and everything else – just think of your own work and you will see it. The first thing that comes to mind is “What can we add?” To make it better. is happening. Even if our work is to our detriment, we are thinking of adding, even if the only right path is to find out. Even with financial incentives, we still do not intend to take it out of our hands. ” he adds.

In his work, Klotz, exploring the overlaps between engineering and behavioral science, worked with three colleagues from the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy on interdisciplinary research that demonstrated the nature of our “additive” behavior. Batten’s School of Public Policy and Psychology assistant professor Gabrielle Adams and associate professor Benjamin Converse and her fellow Batten PhD graduate Andrew Hales collaborated with Klotz in a series of observational studies and experiments to study this phenomenon.

The researchers put forward two broad possibilities for why people systematically choose to add rather than subtract. First, people both generate ideas for possibilities and disproportionately throw subtractive solutions, or secondly, they completely overlook subtractive ideas. Researchers are concentrating on the second possibility.

“Additional ideas come to mind quickly and easily, but subtractive ideas require more cognitive effort,” says Converse. He adds that because people often move fast and work with the first ideas that come to mind, they accept additive solutions without even thinking about subtraction.

Researchers think it could be a self-reinforcing effect.

“The more people rely on additive strategies, the more cognitively accessible they become,” says Adams. He adds that over time, the habit of seeking additional ideas may grow stronger and, in the long run, we may miss many opportunities to heal the world through “pulling out”.

Klotz’un, Nature published a week after his article “Subtract: The Untapped Science of LessHe has a book named ”that deals with the subject from a broader perspective.

In his book, Klotz explores design geniuses, Nobel Prize winners, rock stars and heroes who “subtract” to eliminate racism, advance knowledge, and improve the planet. It elaborates on a wide range of topics, from economic-political strategies that shed light on urbanization and environmental problems, purified from unnecessary highway projects (one of the examples), to conveying jokes in our daily lives in a simple way.

While the timing is by chance, both the research paper and the book are products of the interdisciplinary and collaborative research environment at the University of Virginia.

Turning to the research, it is clear that research with these incredibly interesting findings, as Klotz emphasizes, has tremendous implications across a wide range of interdisciplinary contexts. In particular, it seems essential to implement the “take off” strategy to improve the way we design technology in engineering to benefit humanity.

Resources and Further Reading:
Klotz, Leidy; Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less, Flatiron Books


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