Beautiful Models: Observer

Reactivity: a phenomenon that occurs when individuals alter their performance or behavior due to the awareness that they are being observed.

The Observer / Hawthorne Effect: a type of reactivity in which individuals modify an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed.


Walter Mischel is one of the world’s leading willpower researchers. (He’s the guy who did the marshmallow studies with kids.)

Walter tells us that you can scan someone’s brain and ask them to think about themselves. You’ll see a distinctive pattern in their brain light up. Researchers call this the “self center.” Then, you ask them to think about about a stranger. You’ll see a different pattern light up. They call this the “stranger pattern.”

Then, you ask them to think about their future selves – ten years in the future.

For some people, thinking about their future selves lights up the “self center.”

But for other people, thinking about their future selves lights up the “stranger center.”

Isn’t that fascinating?

Get this: The people who’s future self looks more like a stranger have lower willpower than those whose future self looks more like their current self. They’re less likely to delay gratification and more likely to be impulsive and engage in unhealthy behaviors.

The trick?

We need to strengthen the connection between our future selves and our current selves.

Let’s appreciate the fact that the decisions we are making TODAY are laying the groundwork for the version of us who will show up tomorrow and next week and the year after that.

(Brian Johnson)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“The Observer Effect has beautiful practical application, as the ancient Stoics realized.

Bringing to mind someone you look up to, someone who embodies the qualities of the person you want to be can help regulate your own behavior.

“Do you think bringing to mind God has the same effect in the case of believers?”

“Depends on one’s representation of God. For an anthropomorphized God, I think yes, it does.”

“Who is your Observer?”


“So you’re using the Observer Effect and strengthening the connection with your future self at the same time.”

“Yes. Another subtle application of the Stacking model.”

“Why did you call the model ‘Observer’ and not ‘The Observer’?”

“Because the former has a bigger design-space,
in terms of use – in the same way a word can have more than one meaning, a model can have more than one use –, and
in terms of modularity [<link; medium read] – the extent to which it can be combined with other models.”

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About Dani Trusca

Life-Artist, Thinker, Mover (Traceur)

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