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Volume 592 Issue 7853, 8 April 2021

Less is more

Any attempt to improve an object, idea or situation involves a mental search for possible changes. In this week’s issue, Gabrielle Adams, Benjamin Converse and their colleagues reveal that people tend to solve these challenges by adding extra elements even when taking something away would be simpler and more advantageous. The researchers examined how people approached a range of problems, including solving a geometrical puzzle, stabilizing a Lego structure and improving a miniature golf course. They found that people typically default to searching for additive solutions and only consider subtractive solutions when they are able and willing to invest more effort. The team suggests that subtractive solutions are cognitively less accessible to people, and the fact we continually seek to solve problems by adding elements to them may help explain why we struggle to mitigate problems such as overwhelming schedules, excessive red tape and an overburdened planet.

Cover image: Kelly Krause/Nature.

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