The Additive Cognitive Bias

April 5, 2022 Photography Steven Shore Marie Kondo

Stephen Shore, “U.S. 97, south of Klamath Falls, Oregon, July 21, 1973.”Stephen Shore, “U.S. 97, south of Klamath Falls, Oregon, July 21, 1973.”

Researchers from the University of Virginia have discovered that humans have a psychological tendency to solve problems by adding something rather than subtracting. An example they use to explain this paradox is how for years we used to add training wheels to a bike, but only really revolutionized how children learn to cycle by realizing it would be better to take the pedals off—and create the modern balance bikes that kids use.

They call it the Additive Cognitive Bias”, and it seems to explain not just a lot of behaviors I recognize in myself, but even cultural phenomenons like Marie Kondo, whose popularity is in large parts due to taking things away.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with that information, until I started reading Steven Shore’s new book Modern Instances”, where he makes the case that photography is all about selecting rather than building something:

I think of structure” rather than composition” because composition” refers to a synthetic process, such as painting. A painter starts with a blank canvas. Every mark they make adds complexity. A photographer, on the other hand, starts with the whole world. Every decision they make brings order. Composition” comes from a Latin root, componere, to put together.” Synthesis” comes from a Greek root, syntithenai, which also means to put together.” A photographer doesn’t put together” an image; a photographer selects. What a photographer does isn’t synthetic, it’s analytic.

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