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The Observer Effect: Seeing Is Changing

Isaac Asimov

"“I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers.”"

Isaac Asimov

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IDEA EXTRACTED FROM:

The Observer Effect: Seeing Is Changing

The Observer Effect: Seeing Is Changing

https://fs.blog/2020/08/observer-effect/

fs.blog

8

Key Ideas

The Observer Effect

Most people overlook the effect that people have when someone is observing them. There is a difference in the behaviour of people, animals and atoms when they are being observed.

Though it is not a universal effect, observing living things does change them, and in the case of atoms, it can result in unpredictable behaviour.

The Observer Effect In Science

Apart from people, the observer effect is famously highlighted in the thought experiment of the physician Erwin Schrödinger.

He states that if a cat is placed in a box of radioactive atoms that may or may not kill it in one hour, the cat is in the state of limbo until someone observes it by opening the box. The final outcome does not happen until someone observes it.

Being Observed Changes Our Behavior

Tracking, monitoring and observing people and animals changes their behaviour.

This has been seen in hospitals where patients and even doctors/nurses behave differently when they know that they are being observed. Even captured animals in a zoo behave differently when they are being watched.

Expecting To Be Observed

An expectation that we might be spied on also makes us change our behaviour.

The CCTV cameras in every apartment, mall or office keep the person guessing if they are being surveyed or not. They don’t know if they are being watched, but have no choice but to assume they are, and act accordingly.

The Observer Bias

While it is clear that observing something can change the outcome or behaviour, there is another aspect of the Observer Effect: It also changes the perception of the observer regarding the outcome.

Known as ‘Observer Bias’, outcomes and results can appear altered or distorted based on the observer’s preconceptions, expectations, outside influences, and assumptions. People often see what they expect to see, and their past experience can colour their perceptions.

The Actor-Observer Bias

Our own behaviour appears reasonable to us, and any mistakes that we make are easily attributed to other factors. However, if the same mistake is made by a third person, our tendency is to judge them as incompetent or inconsiderate. This is known as The Actor-Observer Bias.

Even on social media, other people posting about having a good time can falsely appear to us as if their whole life is a party, but when we post something, we see it as a special occasion, and something exceptional.

Using The Observer Effect

We can benefit from the observer effect by carving out our daily goals like going for a jog or to the gym to be observable by a friend, so that we know that if we skip a day, they will know about it.

This can provide us with a positive ‘peer pressure’ to get going.

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