More, more, and more
Adams GS et al. People systematically overlook subtractive changes. Nature, April 2021
A recent study showed that human beings are driven by a powerful instinct to add rather than subtract in daily problem solving. Researchers asked 1,585 participants to solve puzzles or problems where they could either add or subtract elements. Strikingly, in every single test the majority of participants chose addition over subtraction even in instances where subtraction made much more sense. For one of the puzzles, participants could either shade in squares or erase them in order to make a symmetrical pattern. Out of 94 participants, 73 added squares, 18 subtracted, and 3 simply moved around the existing squares. In another puzzle, participants were given a Lego structure and told to improve it however they liked. More than 90 percent chose to add blocks rather than remove some of them. This pattern was very consistent over many different problems. When asked to improve an essay most people lengthened it, and when asked to improve a recipe the majority added more ingredients. However, when participants were instructed or incentivized, they finally started to consider the possibility that less is more. For instance, when participants were asked to stabilize a Lego tower, they were told that completion of task will be rewarded with $1 but each new added piece during construction will cost them 10 cents. The participants then seriously considered removing pieces to solve the problem.