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May 20, 2021

Less is More!

Overdo much? You're not alone. A study at the University of Virginia found that we tend to add -- not subtract -- some element when working up new ideas or solutions. It's faster and easier, but not always better!

Credit: National Science Foundation

Less is More!

Hi, I'm Mo with the NSF -- the U.S. National Science Foundation.

When was the last time you thought about taking away an ingredient in your favorite dish or removing a couple of sentences from your last email? Turns out, we may be wired for addition.

Researchers at the University of Virginia conducted experiments that explored the connection between engineering and behavioral science, investigating why the human brain may be prone to making improvements by adding rather than subtracting.

In one experiment, participants were asked to stabilize a LEGO platform by either adding new blocks to reinforce a corner or removing a corner block to have the surface sit perfectly flat.

The participants would receive one dollar once the platform was completed.

They were all told it cost ten cents to add a LEGO while half were told removing a LEGO was free.

Results showed, even when they were given a financial incentive, most participants didn't even think of the better option of removing a LEGO.

The team's findings, published on the cover of Nature and in a new book called Subtract, suggest, this thinking pattern may be one reason why people struggle with overwhelming schedules, institutions get bogged down in red tape and it is so hard to minimize our impact on the planet, thereby conserving its resources.

This research could lead to opportunities that increase our productivity and quality of life by thinking more about what we can subtract.

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