Counterintuitive behavior of social systems | Forrester (1971)

Counterintuitive behavior of social systems

Counterintuitive behavior of social systems | SpringerLink

Counterintuitive behavior of social systems

Theory and Decision volume 2, pages109–140 (1971)


This paper addresses several issues of broad concern in the United States: population trends; the quality of urban life; national policy for urban growth; and the unexpected, ineffective, or detrimental results often generated by government programs in these areas.

The author does attempt to indicate how multiloop feed-back systems (to which our social systems belong) mislead us because our intuition and judgement have been formed to expect behavior different from that actually possessed by such systems. At times programs cause exactly the reverse of desired results.

It is now possible to explain how such contrary results can happen. There are fundamental reasons why people misjudge the behavior of social systems. There are orderly processes at work that frequently lead people to wrong decisions when faced with complex and highly interacting systems. Until we come to a much better understanding of social systems, we should expect that attempts to develop corrective programs will continue to disappoint us.