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There is an interesting phenomenon I have come across several times when working with groups, and that is the need some people have to make changes to a solution that someone else created.

The change is often superficial or doesn't substantively change the solution, however the person making the suggestion is often adamant that the change is vital.

In a question on the User Experience SE, some comments were made about how to plan for and mitigate this:

People are natural complainers. So next time you present a design make sure there are 1 or more subtle defects you're sure they notice. They'll complain about those, you say ok and fix them. if you present a perfect design, they'll still find stuff regardless.


That reminds me of the Battle Chess duck - It was well known that producers had to make a change to everything that was done. The artist working on the queen animations came up with an innovative solution. He did the animations for the queen the way that he felt would be best, with one addition: he gave the queen a pet duck. He took great care to make sure that it never overlapped the "actual" animation. Eventually, it came time for the producer to review the animation set for the queen. His comments, "that looks great. Just one thing - get rid of the duck."

Is this a known phenomena in Cognitive Sciences?

It seems to indicate a need/desire on the part of the person making the suggestion to exert some control over an external process but I wonder if it is more elemental/basic than that?

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I think that people wants to conquer visibility (to get self esteem). The real question is why people thinks that they can conquer self esteem by taking a competitive advantage over the other person and why they try to achieve this by criticizing the other ideas.. –  Revious Mar 11 '14 at 22:39
Why do you believe that your subjective perception that "the change is often superficial or doesn't substantively change the solution" is an absolute truth? You must first show that the phenomenon you want to study actually exists. So the first step, before a possible answer to your question, would be e.g. to let independent raters (not involved in or partial to the solutions) judge the quality of the suggested changes. You might even have to go back further and look at all the offered solutions, their usefulness, and the process of how the final solution was chosen. –  what Mar 12 '14 at 11:15
I would vote to close because this question is primarily opinion based, but cannot since it has an open bounty. Therefore -1. –  what Mar 12 '14 at 11:16
The gist of the question is what if any research has been done that explores why external ideas can be difficult to accept without providing input, however superficial. This is not a question for your opinion, I'm specifically looking for research that will give insight into how this process works. –  Charles Wesley Mar 12 '14 at 21:07
I'll do some research. There must be a scientific basis. I purposely put errors in my journal articles when I submit them, so that the reviewers have errors to glom onto. Gaming the system is never a bad way to get by! –  rmayer06 Mar 15 '14 at 17:39

4 Answers 4

I’d like to first point out the kind of Psychology you are using is called Phenomenology. It basically says "is what I experience generalizable into a rational view of reality".

The quality or nature of a given experience is often referred to by the term qualia, whose archetypical exemplar is "redness". For example, we might ask, "Is my experience of redness the same as yours?" While it is difficult to answer such a question in any concrete way, the concept of intersubjectivity is often used as a mechanism for understanding how it is that humans are able to empathise with one another's experiences, and indeed to engage in meaningful communication about them. The phenomenological formulation of Being-in-the-World, where person and world are mutually constitutive, is central here.

-wikipedia Phenomenology

One such individual reason for which a person oft is criticizing is they are attempting to bring the world into the psychological reality to which they understand. Their redness and the situation’s redness are so different that they must conform that which is external. However no none is fully able to empathize with the group of nitpickers in order to gain a set of inter-subjectivity because their reasons for being that way are too diverse. (This is the reason micro expression will, without volumes of specific personality data, fail.) We group them all together and call them critics. As a group they are well studied.

The psychology of criticism is primarily concerned with: the motivation, purpose or intent which people have for making criticisms - healthy or unhealthy. the meaning of criticism for the self, and for others - positive or negative. the effect which criticism has on other people - good or bad. how people respond to criticisms, or cope with them - negatively or positively. the quantity and quality of criticism required to achieve the desired effect or outcome. the form in which criticisms are delivered - effective or ineffective. how people learn to give and receive criticism successfully. the sublimation, repression or denial of criticism.

-wikipedia Psychology of criticism

Criticism may be given in good or bad faith. A good faith criticism is intended to help the person improve and is willing to work within that person’s limitations until they are able to make the improvement. Bath faith critics is given for the purpose of simply speaking ill of the other person. Here on the SE you’ll mostly find bath faith criticism. People seeking to advance themselves with positive votes and down voting others for their own pleasure leaving no comments. Trying to help someone in reality when you disapprove of their behavior is dangerous especially when done in public because they may reject the help and try to punish you. However when you’re criticized its unhealthy to initially assume that criticism is in bath faith. You should approach each instance as having no history for who knows we all are infallible and we can improve ourselves. That is to say if someone attacks you for who you are perhaps saying your vocabulary is not expansive enough, your education is lacking or in general you’re a bad “insert profession” then it’s safe and very healthy to assume that attempt to correct was in fact an attempt to degrade. People who repeatedly offend in such manners should be avoided and ignored.

Sometimes people who act in bad faith are simply unskilled in how to criticize without harming the psyche of the individual receiving criticism but they may also be a bully someone who derives pleasure from encroaching on another person’s individuality. In your question you describe a person who needs to control and such a person would be a bully. Perhaps a controlling perfectionist. The likes of which also abound on the SE and in the normal workplace.

A positive way to deal with criticism is to self-criticize before publication. Healthy examine your work from the view of an external observer. In such ways you know you did the best of your ability to correct what mistakes remained hidden from you. Self-criticism can rise to the level of unconstructive unhealthy behavior for that we must always remain watchful.

More central to the issue consistently correcting people can be a control issue. Control mania can be an actual symptom of a greater disease. Like some perfectionist can have OCD anxiety related symptoms in connection with losing control.

One of the most prevalent fears people have is that of losing control. This is the fear that if you don't manage to control the outcome of future events, something terrible will happen. People who are chronic sufferers from such losing-control anxiety keep themselves continuously in a heightened state of stress with only brief, unsatisfying intermissions between fears. The crux of the problem is the demand for certainty in a world that is always tentative and uncertain. It is precisely this unrealistic demand that creates the anxiety. You think that you must accurately predict and manage the future, not just have some probabilistic and uncertain handle on it.

-Psychology Today The Fear of Losing Control

What Can Cause Control Issues?

Reasons for control issues may be related to number of different things including:

• Traumatic or abusive life experiences

• Failed or failing relationships

• Low or damaged self-esteem

• A person's beliefs, values, and faith


How Can Psychotherapy Help Control Issues? In psychotherapy, client and therapist work together to understand the emotional base(s) for the painful and controlling requirements directed by self and others. In determining the emotion(s) behind each issue and need for control, it is possible to recover from self-damage and rebuild and strengthen relationships damaged by the control. As control is rooted in fear, the fear(s) associated with each issue may be addressed and coping and recovery may begin.

-goodtherapy.org Therapy for Control Issues

Now let’s delve into your finial question the basis of competiveness and criticism. All things psychology begin in biology and are brought out through conscious and subconscious training and preprogramming. We are born with bodies which function in a modern society but our templates are based in a more primal times when such urges were not controlled by the outer levels of the brain. We have evolved executive functions which govern self-control but at one time control of the actions of the self was an external force. The male warriors were trouble makers in early societies who were trouble makers:

The social science literature contains numerous examples of human tribalism and parochialism—the tendency to categorize individuals on the basis of their group membership, and treat ingroup members benevolently and outgroup members malevolently. We hypothesize that this tribal inclination is an adaptive response to the threat of coalitional aggression and intergroup conflict perpetrated by ‘warrior males’ in both ancestral and modern human environments. Here, we describe how male coalitional aggression could have affected the social psychologies of men and women differently and present preliminary evidence from experimental social psychological studies testing various predictions from the ‘male warrior’ hypothesis. Finally, we discuss the theoretical implications of our research for studying intergroup relations both in humans and non-humans and discuss some practical implications.

In such way the “male warrior” exist in those who consciously or unconsciously promote themselves today and there exists an instinct to remove their ability to cause the “problem”. In a manner similar to societal protection often which is defunct and not necessary. Further we can draw from the “male warrior” hypothesis is the sex driven competition needs of males. The ability to remove a male from competition through murder or character assassination is a highly evolved trait. It betters your chance of reproduction and your genes chances of survival. We know however that the highly evolved Utopian society is not filled with violence but instead thrives on love, peace and transcending our biology.

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Honestly, this is a very detailed, but really long and rambling answer. Can you shorten it up at all??? –  rmayer06 Mar 18 '14 at 21:18
@rmayer06 uh you have 500 points and I don't see where you have ever been awarded a bounty. He gave away 50 points he deserve something long that gives several viewpoints. This is not rambling it is all a consistent frame of thought. So no I do not agree with you. However if you have a suggestion of something I forgot or how i could effectively rephrase something I said. I'd be more than willing to add to it. –  caseyr547 Mar 18 '14 at 23:15
My point is that your answer is not clear. It takes a lot more work to write a short answer than a long one. Higher quality answers are what we strive for, regardless of how many points a user has. –  rmayer06 Mar 20 '14 at 4:13
The best thing I can suggest is delete and start over. I'm sorry if my criticism is not specific enough, there really is no way I can tell you how to shorten it any more specifically. There's just too much to read, it's overwhelming. –  rmayer06 Mar 20 '14 at 11:04

This is often a common phenomenon, but the context that you cited in your question might hold the key to one possible explanation. When you are presenting your design to someone who is "supposed" to evaluate your design, finding flaws enforces the self-efficacy of the evaluator and signals to him that he's doing his job well. So, the boost to self-efficacy/self-esteem might be a strong motivation for the evaluator to disproportionately criticize small issues with your design.

In addition, there is an even more fundamental human psychology that plays a role here -- the egocentricity/false consensus bias i.e. the idea that everyone else shares the same opinion about an idea as we do. The evaluator of the design might have an expectation of what the "correct" submission looks like, and any deviation from this expectation will be immediately noticed (and frowned upon). I've worked in a software development firm for a while and I see this happening all the time in teams that span product developers, product testers and product managers.

(Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False-consensus_effect)

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This sounds to me very much (but not exactly) like a phenomenon Dan Ariely has done some research on, which he terms 'the IKEA effect'. Of course, he will describe it better than me, specifically in Norton and Ariely (2012), Ariely et al (2008), and this TED talk.

Basically, what he's found is that people value things (furniture, lego models, plans) more when they themselves have contributed their own labour in creating them.

In Ariely et al (2008), they found that:

  • People are more willing to do dull, monotonous paperwork for less money if their name goes on the top of the sheet, and less willing if the paper was shredded after they had finished.
  • The same effect is found if you pay people to put together Lego models: people do more for less money if you don't take apart the models afterwards.

Norton and Ariely (2012) took a different approach, but showed largely the same thing:

  • People believe that the IKEA furniture which they themselves assembled was worth more than anyone else's furniture (measured by how much they would pay to keep it)
  • The same effect was found for origami animals.
  • ..and for Lego models, but not if you take the model apart after you build it (because it's no longer the thing which you created).
  • ...and not getting to finish assembling the furniture reduces this bias.

Hopefully, the link between this research and your question should be clear: by making changes to a solution, that solution becomes in some way 'ours', and because of that, we overestimate it's intrinsic value.


Michael I. Norton, Dan Ariely, and Daniel Mochon (2012), “The IKEA effect: When labor leads to love.” Journal of Consumer Psychology. Vol. 22: 453-460.

Dan Ariely, Emir Kamenica and Drazen Prelec (2008), “Man’s Search for Meaning: The Case of Legos.” Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization. Vol. 67: 671-677.

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It is easy.

  1. Something bad happened, spreads fast, and is related with psychological satisfaction.
  2. Something good will be forgotten fast because you are satisfied you are done with it.

In your example, the solution does not satisfy audience. They wanna make changes. After changes they will forget about the solution, because the solution satisfied them. This is similar to bad customer service: see Bad Customer Service Interactions More Likely to be Shared Than Good Ones.

Perspective matters! You can go from point A to B by car, train, motorbike, bus, ship, plane, helicopter etc. Going with a car is your solution, but going with a train is somebody else's solution. It is all about satisfaction, psychology and perspective! Regards.

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Welcome to CogSci! This does not seem to answer the question, and is rather an unrelated piece of information. That aside, we also generally expect references in answers to make them stronger, e.g. take a look at Eoin's answer. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 19 '14 at 1:01
you welcome to COGSCI , your comment is showing that , you felt the need to make changes to my solution presented by me. Because you are not satisfied with my answer ! –  mussdroid Mar 19 '14 at 7:32
Criticism is part of Stack Exchange's Q&A system. It's a way to indicate why one answer is more suitable than the other, and gives you a chance to motivate/update your answer according to that critique. It's nothing personal, that's why I welcomed you, ... you are very welcome to CogSci. ;p –  Steven Jeuris Mar 19 '14 at 11:58
Hello Steven , Thanks For Feedback ! Why do people feel the need to make changes to a solution presented by another person ? The answer is Criticism ! There must be critcism on every system ! –  mussdroid Mar 19 '14 at 12:21

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