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Why Do Our Brains Miss Opportunities to Improve Situations Through Subtraction? Science Now Has an Answer

Why Do Our Brains Miss Opportunities to Improve Situations Through Subtraction? Science Now Has an Answer

Why do we never look at subtraction as an option and only look for additive ideas?

Have you ever thought that when we talk about problem-solving or making something better, why is our initial instinct is always to make additions to the present scenario? While having something extra could be great, it can’t be right for all the situation. So, why do we never look at subtraction as an option and only look for additive ideas?

According to a report in Phys.org, a recent study conducted by the researchers of the University of Virginia explains why people never look to eliminate, remove or subtract things when they are aiming to make the scenario better. The paper featured on the cover of Nature.

The findings could help us understand a number of things including why humans are exhausting our planet’s resource or why we are burdened with things in life.

Leidy Klotz, Copenhaver Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment at the University of Virginia, teamed up with three colleagues from the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy for a series of observational studies and experiments to study the phenomenon.

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For the study, the team was exploring two broad possibilities – that either people think about both additive and subtractive ideas but disproportionally discard the subtractive ideas or they never think about subtractive options and overlook it completely. The researcher decided to focus on the second possibility and went ahead with the study.

Associate professor Benjamin Converse, a member of the research team, said that the finding suggests that additive idea come very quickly to our mind while subtractive ideas require more focused effort. He added that because people are moving very fast with their work and ideas, they take up the first solution that comes to their mind and start working on it. So, the first additive solution is what people choose and never even try to think of a subtractive idea.

The team of researchers believes that this could have a self-reinforcing effect and we may become more cognitively available. The habit of looking for additive ideas will only get stronger and we might never be able to look for subtractive ideas that will help us to improve the situation of the world.

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first published:April 08, 2021, 18:12 IST