The Observer Effect: Seeing Is Changing
"“I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers.”"
This is a professional note extracted from an online article.
Read more efficiently
Save what inspires you
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:
While looking for solutions and answers, we find that an individual provides a different answer than a group of people. Wisdom of the crowd is often considered better, as an individual might be bia...
Multiple brains work well when the answer is a simple numerical figure or fact, and the question is not coming from the collective intelligence themselves. It helps when the input mechanism posing the problem to the collective intelligence has strict quality control.
Individuals, when given substantial powers, start to achieve ‘optimal stupidity’, especially when they are not held accountable for the results and consequences.
Scientific communities make good use of the peer-review process (individuals checking each other) to achieve quality on the basis of a meritocracy.
No mechanism is fool-proof, with bad reporting, incompetency and self-delusion among many individual contributors diminishing the quality of the solutions.
one more idea
A few months ago, the world seemed reliable, but now it is changing so fast and has so many unknown dimensions, it can be hard to try and keep up.
Mental models can help us understand the wo...
Compounding is exponential growth. We tend to see the immediate linear relationships in the situation, e.g., how one test diagnoses one person.
The compounding effect of that relationship means that increased testing can lead to an exponential decrease in disease transmission because one infected person can infect more than just one person.
In the absence of enough testing, we need to use probabilistic thinking to make decisions on what actions to take. Reasonable probability will impact your approach to physical distancing if you estimate the likelihood of transmission as being three people out of ten instead of one person out of one thousand.
When you have to make decisions with incomplete information, use inversion: Look at the problem backward. Ask yourself what you could do to make things worse, then avoid doing those things.
4 more ideas
After a particularly stressful event, most people prepare for a repeat of the same challenge they just faced. From the micro level to the macro level, we succumb to the availability bias and get re...
When a certain disaster or calamity happens, we work towards ensuring that the same calamity can be dealt with in the better way, the next time it happens. The pain or loss that we suffer motivates us to do so.
We forget in our preparation and resource allocation to the ‘last’ disaster, that we have neglected many other things that are more likely to happen.