Understanding the environment: A systems approach
Understanding the environment: A systems approach

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

1.1 Feedback

A central concept of systems thinking is 'mutual causality': that A gives rise to B and, in turn, B gives rise to A. You cannot have one without the other. In the crudest of examples, we eat the environment and we are eaten by it. A and B are an indivisible whole and the dynamics of each cannot be understood in isolation.

There are two basic dynamic relationships between A and B in a system, although actual behaviour can be a complex combination of the two: (i) positive feedback, i.e. when a change in one results in a similar change in the other; and (ii) negative feedback, i.e. when a change in one results in an opposite change in the other.

You can see positive feedback in many common human interactions. For example, an argument can rapidly escalate when A reacts badly to B, who likewise reacts in the same way to A, and so on in a worsening spiral. Negative feedback is when A's violent reaction is dampened by B's conciliatory response. It's a little confusing in this context that positive feedback can be a negative thing and vice-versa, but when it comes to feedback in systems, 'positive' and 'negative' refer to patterns of dynamic change rather than value judgements.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371