Positive Feedback Systems

Positive Feedback Systems

A system is a set of things working together and are interconnected. This interconnection can be the receiving of information, relaying information, analysing information and manipulating information.

Systems can be small with relatively few things such as a Hydrogen atom or can be large such as our body, our social relationships, our planet or our universe. Systems can be open in that they receive input from outside of the system or they can be closed so they are self-sustaining and are isolated from influence outside of the system. I would argue that all systems are open due to their outside influence with the only possible exception being theoretical systems or the entire universe (only because we don’t know if there is anything else).  

Systems are often striving for homogeneity and regulation, however, in the case of open systems this is a constant battle as they are regularly adjusting to manage outside influences. Below is a great example of the interaction between the elements of a homeostatic system;


Now a negative feedback system is about returning the balance and managing homeostasis. An example of this is the control of blood sugar in the body. When there is a spike in blood sugar levels within the body it is detected by receptors. This information is feed to the pancreas which secretes insulin until blood sugar levels are back to normal. AT this point the pancreas stops secreting insulin and the system has returned to homeostasis.

A positive feedback system, however, amplifies the original input in the system. In Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life, he explains positive feedback loops using a music reference. A squealing sound that can often be heard when someone is talking on a microphone or at a band is an example of a positive feedback loop. The microphone (Receptor) sends a signal to the speakers (Control). The speakers then emit the signal (Output). The signal can then be picked up again through the microphone and if it’s too close or too loud then the signal continues to amplify to a squealing pitch.   

Peterson argues that it is these positive feedback systems at play when it comes to mental illness and addiction. Peterson uses the example of alcohol addiction;

“Imagine a person who enjoys alcohol, perhaps a bit too much. He has a quick three or four drinks. His blood alcohol level spikes sharply. This can be extremely exhilarating, but it only occurs while blood alcohol levels are actively rising, and that only continues while the drinker keeps drinking. When he stops, not only does his blood alcohol level plateau and then start to sink, but his body begins to produce a variety of toxins. Withdrawal starts as the anxiety systems that were suppressed start to hyper-respond. A hangover is alcohol withdrawal. To continue the warm glow, and stop the unpleasant aftermath, the drinker may just continue to drink until all the liquor in his house is consumes, the bars are closed, and all his money is spent”.

The identification of unhealthy positive feedback systems is important as these are inherently unsustainable. This can be achieved in psychotherapy, pharmacological therapy or simply by listening to family and friends. These supports mirror negative feedback systems in that they try to promote the flow of accurate information from the receptors to the control, so regulation of output and input can be achieved.



Peterson, J. (2018) 12 Rules for Living