Updated: Jul 1, 2021
Editor's Note: This article was authored by Stefanie Faye, for the Institute for Organizational Mindfulness (IOM). Thanks, Stefanie!
The Positive Feedback Mechanism
What do a viral video and a stampede of animals have in common? They're both mechanisms that are related to self-fulfilling prophecies, self-beliefs, anxiety, and negative thinking in general.
This all has to do with something called Positive Feedback. This is not verbal commentary, like "you're doing a great job!", but something reactionary that enhances or amplifies an effect.
In a stampede of animals, the abrupt movement and running of one animal gets detected by another, and another - and this effect continues to amplify until a stampede occurs.
This is a predictive modeling process. Like stampeding animals, humans have also learned to predict behavior based on a very small sampling of data, from only a few select people in our world - This happens over and over again for the first years of our lives.
Feedback Loops and Anxiety
Similar feedback loops exist in certain cases of anxiety. In some cases, a person may have hyper-interoceptive awareness. This means that they are very aware of fluctuations within their body, including their heart rate. Their interpretation of these sensations may lead them to think something is wrong, that their body is not "supposed" to do that. This type of interpretation then creates a feedback loop of anxiety about what is wrong, which can lead to, for example, a faster heartbeat, which then leads to more anxiety.
Correcting Feedback Loops
Something that can have a balancing or correcting effect on a positive feedback loop is Negative Feedback. In the case of someone who may become anxious due to their heart beating fast (as an example), Negative Feedback could include introducing thoughts that the body is doing something adaptive or beneficial. A faster beating heart can also mean we are excited, engaged, alert, and feeling alive.
In my current podcast, Feedback Loops, I cover how positive feedback loops might be causing us challenges in our thinking, and what we can do to try to interrupt these feedback loops so we can feel more regulated and resilient.
To learn more about re-appraising physiological signals check out my video here: Neuroscience of Courage
Stefanie Faye is a neuroscience researcher and clinician. She has been consulting in countries across the globe and works to bridge the gap between complex research and practicable application. Through group training, development seminars, and lectures Stefanie helps individuals find new ways of using their talents, discomforts, failures, and challenges as pathways to growth and evolution.
Institute for Organizational Mindfulness (IOM) is a membership association of researchers, educators, and executives, with a shared mission to bring science-based neural training into the mainstream of business, healthcare, education, and government. We're working to create a global community of shared experience, conduct research, define standards and practices, develop educational programs, and determine the measures, metrics, and analytics for organizational mindfulness.