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Mental Models Mental Model: Feedback Loops
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Feedback loops are created when reactions affect themselves and can be positive or negative.

Consider a thermostat regulating room temperature. This is an example of a negative feedback loop. As the temperature rises, the thermostat turns off the furnace allowing the room to rest at a predetermined temperature. When the temperature falls below that predetermined temperature the furnace reignites to return the room to its equilibrium state. Other examples include body temperature and financial markets.

Referring to the credit problems in 2008/2009, Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Charlie Munger explained:

By the fourth quarter, the credit crisis, coupled with tumbling home and stock prices, had produced a paralyzing fear that engulfed the country. A free-fall in business activity ensued, accelerating at a pace that I have never before witnessed. The U.S. — and much of the world — became trapped in a vicious negative-feedback cycle. Fear led to business contraction, and that in turn led to even greater fear.

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, Victor Niederhoffer says:

One of the common features that all life possesses is a mechanism for maintaining orderly conditions. This tendency is called homeostasis . In system theory, it is called negative feedback … A Common homeostatic behavior in humans is temperature regulation. If the temperature rises above the 98.6 F optimum for normal human activity, sensors on the skin detect it and signal the brain that a rise has occurred. The brain relays the information to the effectors that increase blood flow to the skin. This induces perspiration. The loss in head, caused by evaporation, lowers the body temperature. When the body cools below a certain point, a comparable mechanism is set off, this time reducing blood flow and causing shivering. This activity generates heat through physical activity thus raising the body temperature.

homeostasis negative feedback

In Universal Principles of Design , William Lidwell, Jill Butler, and Kritina Holden write:

Every action creates an equal and opposite reaction. When reactions loop back to affect themselves, a feedback loop is created . All real-world systems are composed of many such interacting feedback loops — animals, machines, businesses, and ecosystems, to name a few. There are two types of feedback loops: positive and negative. Positive feedback amplifies system output, resulting in growth or decline. Negative feedback dampers output, stabilizes the system around an equilibrium point.

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Objective: The Androgen Excess Society (AES) charged a task force to review all available data and recommend an evidence-based definition for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), whether already in use or not, to guide clinical diagnosis and future research.


Participants: Participants included expert investigators in the field.


Evidence: Based on a systematic review of the published peer-reviewed medical literature, by querying MEDLINE databases, we tried to identify studies evaluating the epidemiology or phenotypic aspects of PCOS.


Consensus Process: The task force drafted the initial report, following a consensus process via electronic communication, which was then reviewed and critiqued by the AES Board of Directors. No section was finalized until all members were satisfied with the contents and minority opinions noted. Statements that were not supported by peer-reviewed evidence were not included.

Consensus Process:

Conclusions: Based on the available data, it is the view of the AES Task Force on the Phenotype of PCOS that there should be acceptance of the original 1990 National Institutes of Health criteria with some modifications, taking into consideration the concerns expressed in the proceedings of the 2003 Rotterdam conference. A principal conclusion was that PCOS should be first considered a disorder of androgen excess or hyperandrogenism, although a minority considered the possibility that there may be forms of PCOS without overt evidence of hyperandrogenism but recognized that more data are required before validating this supposition. Finally, the task force recognized, and fully expects, that the definition of this syndrome will evolve over time to incorporate new research findings.

Issue Section:

THE DISORDER THAT eventually would be known as the polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) was initially described by Stein and Leventhal in 1935 ( 1 ). There is little disagreement that PCOS should be considered a syndrome, i.e. a collection of signs and features, in which no single test is diagnostic. In essence, the whole (or global assessment) is greater than the sum of the individual features. However, establishing a clear, contemporaneous, and evidence-based definition for this syndrome has important clinical and investigational implications. Nonetheless, the definition of PCOS has continued to generate significant controversy ( 2 4 ).

Clinically, diagnosing a woman as having PCOS implies an increased risk for infertility, dysfunctional bleeding, endometrial carcinoma, obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia, hypertension, and possibly cardiovascular disease ( 5 ). Furthermore, it has important familial implications, principally, but not exclusively, for her sisters and daughters ( 6 8 ). Finally, a diagnosis of PCOS may mandate life-long treatments, e.g. the use of insulin sensitizers, and may negatively affect her ability to access health care coverage, principally in capitalistic markets. Consequently, the diagnosis of PCOS should not be assigned lightly, and diagnostic criteria should be based on robust data.

Once everything is set up

will make all the pieces and the installer and put them in the gnuwin32/cran subdirectory, then check the build. This works by building all the parts in the sequence:

The parts can be made individually if a full build is not needed, but earlier parts must be built before later ones. (The Makefile doesn’t enforce this dependency—some build targets force a lot of computation even if all files are up to date.) The first four targets are the default build if just make (or make all ) is run.

Parallel make is not supported and likely to fail.

If you want to customize the installation by adding extra packages, replace make rinstaller by something like

An alternative way to customize the installer starting with a binary distribution is to first make an installation of R from the standard installer, then add packages and make other customizations to that installation. Then (after having customized file MkRules , possibly via MkRules.local , and having made R in the source tree) in src/gnuwin32/installer run

where rootdir is the path to the root of the customized installation (in double quotes if it contains spaces or backslashes).

Both methods create an executable with a standard name such as R-3.5.1-win.exe , so please rename it to indicate that it is customized. If you intend to distribute a customized installer please do check that license requirements are met – note that the installer will state that the contents are distributed under GPL and this has a requirement for you to supply the complete sources (including the R sources even if you started with a binary distribution of R, and also the sources of any extra packages (including their external software) which are included).

The defaults for the startup parameters may also be customized. For example

will create an installer that defaults to installing R to run in SDI mode. See src/gnuwin32/installer/Makefile for the names and values that can be set.

The standard distribution of a 32/64-bit installer is made by first building 32-bit R (just

is needed), and then (in a separate directory) building 64-bit R with the macro HOME32 set in file MkRules.local to the top-level directory of the 32-bit build. Then the make rinstaller step copies the files that differ between architectures from the 32-bit build as it builds the installer image.

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It is also possible to build an installer for use with Microsoft Installer. This is intended for use by sysadmins doing automated installs, and is not recommended for casual use.

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