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?

  • $\begingroup$ 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.. $\endgroup$
    – Revious
    Mar 11, 2014 at 22:39
  • $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Mar 12, 2014 at 11:15
  • $\begingroup$ I would vote to close because this question is primarily opinion based, but cannot since it has an open bounty. Therefore -1. $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Mar 12, 2014 at 11:16
  • $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ Mar 12, 2014 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ 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! $\endgroup$
    – theMayer
    Mar 15, 2014 at 17:39

3 Answers 3


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.


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)


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.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Mar 19, 2014 at 1:01
  • $\begingroup$ 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 ! $\endgroup$
    – mussdroid
    Mar 19, 2014 at 7:32
  • $\begingroup$ 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 $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Mar 19, 2014 at 11:58
  • $\begingroup$ 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 ! $\endgroup$
    – mussdroid
    Mar 19, 2014 at 12:21

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