blocks of Lego

blocks of Lego

Consider a bridge built of Legos. One side features three support parts, whereas the other has only two. How would you make the bridge more stable? According to a new survey, most individuals would add a piece to the short stack. But why not take something from the taller stack? People like to add rather than subtracting when it comes to Lego pieces, ingredients in a recipe, or words in an essay. 

Add or Subtract?

Others can persuade people to deduct rather than add. However, altering that inclination appears to need reminders or rewards. This is the conclusion of new research. Its writers published details about it in the April 8 issue of Nature. 

This propensity for addition extends beyond building blocks, cooking, and writing. It may also contribute to today’s excesses. Consider crowded houses, excessive government regulations, and even a predisposition to pollute, argues Benjamin Converse. He works at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville as a behavioral scientist. He is concerned that, as a result of this tendency to add, “we are overlooking an entire class of solutions.” 

Converse was part of the team that discovered this prejudice by asking 1,585 research participants to solve eight puzzles and issues. To produce an asymmetrical design, one problem involved darkening or erasing squares on a grid. Each of these problems might be handled by adding or deleting items. In another, users may add or remove items from a list of potential holiday spots to better their vacation experience. 

In each of these cases, the great majority of respondents decided to add rather than delete. For example, 73 of the 94 participants who completed the grid challenge added squares. Another 18 deleted squares. The initial number of squares was merely modified by three. 

The researchers believe that most people default to adding since subtracting never occurs to them. However, the team was able to push recruits toward the negative choice through a series of controlled experiments. 

A hint, a hint… 

The researchers gave $1 to 197 people strolling through a packed university campus to solve a problem in one experiment. People looked at a Lego construction. It featured a woman atop a platform with a large pillar behind her. A single block supported a flat roof on one corner of the pillar. To avoid squashing the figure, researchers requested people to support the ceiling. 

The researchers informed the 98 volunteers that “every piece you add costs 10 cents.” Only 40 of them had the foresight to remove the unstable stone, allowing the roof to rest on top of the broad pillar underneath. The remaining 99 participants were informed of the 10-cent fee of each additional block. However, these folks discovered that “removing parts is free.” Sixty of them were encouraged to remove the block as a result of the cue. 

Participants received three practice runs in a grid test variation in which subtraction provided the best result. Participants were able to recall the elusive choice of deleting (subtracting) anything after little practice. When it came to the actual job, more participants decided to remove squares than those who had never tackled this issue before. 

Throwing irrelevant information at people lowered the likelihood of their subtracting something. According to the current study, respondents contributed even more when dealing with information overload.