we humans love to add features and not take them away (even if that’s better)

If you take a look at Ad Reinhardt’s paintings, you might think they are teasing you. This 20th century abstract painter became famous for an artistic reductionism which was almost absurd. He has a painting at MoMA that is basically a square painted black and is part of the minimalist art movement that began after World War II.

Reinhardt is also famous for that phrase from “less is more” which has later been applied to all kinds of fields, but which does not really fit our way of acting. When human beings try to solve a problem, we do it preferably adding features and elements, not removing them. A study published in Nature makes it clear.

More is more

A group of researchers from the University of Virginia led by Gabrielle S. Adams has published in this renowned scientific journal the results of a curious study: one that shows that human beings we love to solve problems by adding things even though removing them would in many cases be more efficient.


The study exposed a number of participants to various problems. For example, how to avoid that in a small LEGO the ceiling does not collapse when resting a brick on it. Although reinforcing it was more expensive (putting in new LEGO blocks cost 10 cents, they were told), the majority of participants did not hesitate to do soWhen the simplest thing, the authors pointed out, was simply to eliminate the pillar that supported it and let the ceiling rest on the base without further ado (although that was a bit of a ‘trap’ since in that case the ceiling simply disappears).

Buying guide to an organized desk for work at home and in the office: brackets, strips, cable organizers and more

Participants solved other similar problems in the same way: adding features or elements rather than removing them. According to Adams et al., the reason these participants offered so few subtractive solutions it was because they didn’t even take them into consideration. Only when it was pointed out that perhaps by eliminating some element they could find a better solution, the possibility that less could be more was valued.

As explained in Nature, these experiments suggest that human beings are very predisposed to apply a philosophy of “What can we add here?”, A strategy very common when it comes to simplifying and speeding up decision making.

This factor is perhaps joined by another social one: subtractive solutions are not so appreciated. Removing things is not well seen, but adding them is, something that is very common in applications and services that we use on computers and that do not stop growing: they keep what was already there “if it’s there, it’s for some reason”, but they continue to add functionalities even if the previous ones are not used (as much) or are reductive or less useful in later versions. A singular study, without a doubt.

Via | Nature

Leave a Comment