In a new paper presented on the cover of Nature, Researchers at the University of Virginia explain why people rarely look at a situation, object or idea for improvement – in all kinds of contexts – and think about removing something as a solution. Instead, we almost always add something, whether it helps or not.
The team’s findings suggest a fundamental reason why people struggle with overloaded schedules, institutions get bogged down in a proliferating bureaucracy, and, of particular interest to researchers, humanity is exhausting itself. the planet’s resources.
“It happens in the technical design, which is my main interest,” said Leidy Klotz, associate professor in Copenhagen in the department of systems and environmental engineering. “But that also happens in writing, cooking and everything in between – just think of your own work and you’ll see it. The first thing that comes to our mind is what can we add to it. improve. Our article shows that we do this to our detriment, even when the only correct answer is to subtract. Even with financial incentives, we still don’t think of winning. “
Klotz, whose research explores the overlaps between engineering and behavioral science, has teamed up with three colleagues from the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy on interdisciplinary research that shows how additive we are by nature. Batten School of Public Policy and Psychology, Assistant Professor Gabrielle Adams and Associate Professor Benjamin Converse, and former Batten Postdoctoral Fellow Andrew Hales collaborated with Klotz on a series of observational and d ‘experiments to study the phenomenon.
When examining two broad possibilities that people systematically fail in addition to – either they generate ideas for both possibilities and disproportionately reject subtractive solutions, or they ignore subtractive ideas altogether – researchers consider themselves. are focused on the latter.
“Additive ideas come to mind quickly and easily, but subtractive ideas require more cognitive effort,” Converse said. “Because people often move fast and work with the first ideas that come to mind, they end up accepting additive solutions without considering subtraction at all.”
Researchers believe there may be a self-reinforcing effect.
“The more often people rely on additive strategies, the more cognitively accessible they become,” Adams said. “Over time, the habit of looking for additive ideas can get stronger and stronger, and in the long run we end up missing out on many opportunities to improve the world by subtraction.”
Klotz has a book that takes a broader view on the subject, Subtract: Less’s Untapped Science, coming out a week after Nature paper. While the timing is a coincidence, both the article and the book are products of AVU’s interdisciplinary and collaborative research environment, he said.
“This is an incredibly interesting finding, and I think our research has huge implications in all settings, but especially in engineering to improve the way we design technology for the benefit of humanity,” Klotz said.