The Observer Effect


We had a “parent observation day” in Nicholas’ kindergarten class today. This is when a few parents sit in on the class for a while (90 minutes), and just observe (a) how the class runs, and (b) how their child behaves while in class. We were not supposed to assist him at all, we were just supposed to sit and watch. Of course, Nicky was an angel while we were there. We sat and watched him sit and read with two other kids with minimal incident — one of the kids wouldn’t let Nicky hold the book, and rather than yelling and hitting (which he would do with Ryan), he calmly told the teacher what was happening. Nicky loves to throw stuff — I doubt he could go an hour and a half at home without throwing something, unless he’s asleep or watching Scooby-Doo on TV, but he didn’t throw anything the entire time we were there. Just before we left, his teacher came over and told us that Nicky was having “a stellar day”.

This would seem to me to be a prime example of the Observer Effect, where the act of observing something changes it. (I have referred to this in the past as the “Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle”, but according to Wikipedia, this is incorrect.) Nicky knew we were in the corner watching, so he behaved better than he might have otherwise. The only way around this would be to install a video camera somewhere where the kids wouldn’t see it, don’t tell them about it, and watch the whole thing from another room. But then some parents would go all “civil rights” and “Big Brother” on us and sue the school for mental anguish or some bullshit like that.

Of course, it’s possible that I’m not giving Nicky enough credit — we all have our good and bad days, and perhaps he’s just having a good day. He did get a lot of sleep last night, and ate a fair-sized breakfast, and we did get to watch in the morning before he gets tired, so maybe our presence didn’t have that much of an effect.

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