Kolja Sam Pluemer

The cybernetic self-attention feedback loop (Carver & Scheier, 1981)

Summary of the research paper 'The Self-Attention-Induced Feedback Loop and Social Facilitation'. Discusses how human behavior in social contexts is controlled by two behavior loops.


A colorful spiral


I recently read The Self-Attention-Induced Feedback Loop and Social Facilitation which is a sprawling paper with contents from an overview of the development of palmar sweat measurement to meta-scientific analysis of the difference between cybernetics and drive theory.

It also bases itself on a very cool fundamental model of human behavior, which I thought merited it’s own short blog post.

The loop

Fundamental idea of cybernetics: Thinking in loops. In this case, we think about two systems comprising a big loop which controls the behavior of a person. Both of these systems are thought of as conscious things that we define for ourselves with active effort (-> “self-attention”).

  1. Defining Behavior Standard - this information-processing system analyzes and categorizes what we see, hear and feel. Its continuous goal is to form an opinion about how we ought to behave in a given situation.
  2. Regulating - this system actually controls behavior, with the goal to align what we are doing as close as possible to what we should be doing (see system above)

That’s it! It may seem basal, but honestly it is a cool way to think about behavior, especially when designing a system that intends to make people behave a certain why. Say you design a community platform for language learners:

  • What behavior standard are you facilitating?
  • What tools are you giving the users to regulate their behavior?
  • Which behaviors are specific types of users exhibiting in the community, and how does this influence other users?
  • …and so on…

I think that’s pretty neat! There is no reason to not apply this mental model of behavior to anything from Code of Conducts to architecture to gamification to your own productivity system. Have fun.

Thanks for reading! This post is part of my series of reading and summarizing papers, mostly relating to UX. I use a casual tone because that’s the most fun to me. That means my interpretation of a given paper may be off. Or incomplete. Or plain wrong. Always think for yourself, and please, don’t cite this in an academic context. Use the original article instead. Cheers!