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Covert bias in the English language affects everyone – even AI chatbots

New research reveals that a linguistic bias in the English language, which encourages us to "improve" things by adding to them instead of subtracting from them, is so common that it has even been incorporated into chatbots artificial intelligence

ChatGPT. Illustration:
ChatGPT. Illustration:

Research reveals that language related to "improvement" is more associatively linked with addition rather than subtraction, which may lead to overly complicated solutions. This addition bias is deeply embedded in the English language and can negatively affect decision-making, as people may prefer to add additional layers or elements rather than simplify. The phenomenon is so common that it has even been incorporated into artificial intelligence chatbots.

Language dealing with the idea of ​​"improvement" is more often associated with expansion rather than reduction. This may prompt us to take actions that unnecessarily complicate the things we aim to improve.

International research team from the University of Birmingham, Glasgow, Potsdam and Northumbria University published research in the journal Cognitive Science detailing their findings.

Dr Budo Winter, Associate Professor of Cognitive Linguistics at the University of Birmingham, said: "Our research builds on existing research which has shown that when people want to make improvements, they usually add things.

"We found that the same bias is deeply embedded in the English language. For example, the word 'improve' is closer in meaning to words like 'add' and 'increase' than to 'subtract' and 'decrease', so when someone in a meeting says, 'Does anyone have any ideas on how we can improve this?', it will already contain A call for improvement by addition instead of improvement by subtraction".

The study also found that other verbs of change such as 'change', ' or 'improve' behave similarly, and if this linguistic addition bias is left unchecked, it can make the situation worse rather than better. For example, improving by adding instead of subtracting can result in excessive bureaucracy.

This bias also works in the opposite direction. Addition-related words are more common and more positive in 'improvement' contexts than subtraction-related words, meaning that this addition bias is found at multiple levels of English language structure and use.

The bias is so entrenched that even AI chatbots suffer from it the researchers asked GPT-3, ChatGPT's predecessor, what it thought of the word 'add'. He replied: "The word 'to add' is a positive word. Adding something to something else usually makes it better. For example, if you add sugar to your coffee, it will probably taste better. If you add a new friend to your life, you will probably be happier."

Dr. Winter concludes: "The inflection of the positive addition in the English language is something we should all be aware of. This can affect our decisions and means that we predispose to add more layers, more levels, more things when in fact we might benefit from removal or simplification.

"Perhaps the next time we are asked at work, or in life, to offer suggestions on how to improve, we should take a second to consider our choices a little more."

for the scientific article

More of the topic in Hayadan:


  1. not surprising. For years I have been of the opinion that the efficient and economical Hebrew language (usually a Hebrew translation 15% shorter than an English original), is one of the reasons for our military efficiency.

    Effective language will be understandable, unambiguous and lean. Can be developed as professional jargon in certain fields. Hebrew is naturally like that, and therefore the Israeli advantage in many areas.

  2. Well, so what's the word? Is this a quiz or an essay? The link to the original article doesn't work either.

  3. You have not given a single example of a word in English that means improvement and implies addition.
    I'm not a great expert in English but the word is improvement
    In this word there is no hint of increase or addition.
    Treating version 3 of GPT is a joke
    It's like asking a two-year-old to solve a puzzle.
    You can also add salt to coffee and not just sugar.

  4. In this article, you repeated the same content of the first paragraph four times in order to extend the size of the article. Really efficient on your part.

  5. The time has come to apply this insight to the government apparatus, both in Israel, and in the US, and in general.

    Cut back, close branches, fire free eaters, cancel laws and regulations, lower taxes - everything will be better.

    (To improve this response five superlatives have been dropped).

  6. very interesting! I never thought about it. For me, too, the word improvement is associated with addition.

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