Subtracting! (04-21-21)

Klotz, Adams, and Converse studied human problem solving; their findings are relevant wherever and whenever humans act. A press release related to the trio’s work (recently published in Nature) reports that “When considering two broad possibilities for why people systematically default to addition — either they generate ideas for both possibilities and disproportionately discard subtractive solutions or they overlook subtractive ideas altogether — the researchers focused on the latter. ‘Additive ideas come to mind quickly and easily, but subtractive ideas require more cognitive effort,’ Converse said. . . . The researchers think 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 may get stronger and stronger, and in the long run, we end up missing out on many opportunities to improve the world by subtraction.’ . . . ‘I think our research has tremendous implications across contexts, but especially in engineering to improve how we design technology to benefit humanity,’ Klotz said.”

Jennifer McManamay.2021.  “Why Our Brains Miss Opportunities to Improve Through Subtraction.”  Press release, University of Virginia,