The Overview Effect

The overview effect is a cognitive shift reported by some astronauts when they look back at the Earth from space. The shift occurs because of the impressive visual spectacle of the Earth and tends to be characterized by a state of awe and increased self-transcendence.

Concept Overview– The Overview Effect is a profound psychological phenomenon experienced by astronauts when they view Earth from space. It’s characterized by a shift in perspective, awareness, and consciousness, leading to a deep sense of interconnectedness, unity, and empathy for the planet and all its inhabitants. Astronauts often describe this experience as transformative, altering their worldview and priorities. The term “Overview Effect” was coined by author and space philosopher Frank White in 1987.
Key Elements– The Overview Effect involves several key elements: – Change in Perspective: Astronauts, upon seeing Earth from space, experience a dramatic shift in perspective. They no longer perceive borders, divisions, or conflicts but instead view the planet as a whole. – Profound Connection: There is a deep emotional and cognitive connection to Earth and all life forms. Astronauts often report feeling a profound sense of unity with humanity and the natural world. – Awareness of Fragility: The fragility of Earth’s environment becomes apparent, highlighting the need for environmental stewardship and sustainability. Astronauts gain a heightened awareness of Earth’s vulnerability.
Causes– The Overview Effect is triggered by several factors: – Astronaut’s Experience: Astronauts’ experiences of seeing Earth from space, surrounded by the vastness of the cosmos, create a unique cognitive and emotional response. – Cognitive Shift: The human brain processes the experience in a way that transcends daily concerns and allows for a more holistic, global perspective. – Lack of Borders: The absence of visible borders, divisions, and conflicts from space contributes to the perception of unity. – Earth’s Fragility: Viewing Earth as a fragile, finite entity in the vastness of space emphasizes the importance of preserving and protecting it.
Examples– Examples of the Overview Effect can be found in the testimonies of astronauts who have experienced it: – Apollo 14: Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell, during his lunar mission in 1971, described the Earth as “a sparkling blue and white jewel” and felt a sense of interconnectedness with all living beings. – Space Shuttle Endeavour: During the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s mission in 1992, astronauts reported a profound shift in perspective and an increased commitment to environmental conservation upon seeing Earth from space. – International Space Station (ISS): Astronauts aboard the ISS regularly share their experiences of the Overview Effect through videos, photos, and interviews, emphasizing the transformative nature of the phenomenon.
Consequences– The Overview Effect has significant consequences for individuals and society: – Environmental Awareness: Astronauts who experience the Overview Effect often become advocates for environmental conservation and sustainability, recognizing Earth’s fragility. – Global Consciousness: The phenomenon fosters a global consciousness, transcending cultural and national boundaries, and encourages cooperation and unity. – Perspective on Conflicts: Astronauts often view terrestrial conflicts and divisions as trivial compared to the unity and interconnectedness they perceive from space. – Inspirational Impact: The stories and perspectives shared by astronauts who have experienced the Overview Effect inspire others to consider the planet’s well-being and the importance of space exploration for the future of humanity.
Implications– The Overview Effect has profound implications for various fields: – Environmental Policy: It influences discussions and decisions related to environmental policy, climate change, and conservation efforts. – Space Exploration: The Overview Effect underscores the potential of space exploration to transform human perspectives and drive positive change on Earth. – Global Leadership: It emphasizes the importance of global leadership and cooperation in addressing global challenges. – Educational Value: The phenomenon has educational value, serving as an inspirational tool for teaching about environmental stewardship and interconnectedness.

Understanding the overview effect

The overview effect is a spiritual experience that occurs when astronauts see the Earth from a different perspective.

Viewed from space, they develop an intense appreciation for the small blue dot with a razor-thin atmosphere that harbors all life and civilizations. 

The precise nature of the experience varies from one person to the next, but Frank White, the first person to describe the effect, noted that it references the sense of “wonder and awe, unity with nature, transcendence and universal brotherhood”

Recent research into the science of awe shows that one does not need to leave the Earth to experience the overview effect.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that awe expands our perspective whenever we encounter that which “cannot be reduced to pre-existing elements in a given schema”.

In this situation, the individual must accommodate the stimuli and expand their perspective to take new information into account.

Those who accommodate new information also tend to be comfortable questioning their assumptions and are open to new experiences.

In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, it was discovered that awe diminishes one’s self-concern and increases altruistic behavior.

When people see their lives as diminutive or inconsequential in the context of a vast and complex universe, they feel less self-absorbed and entitled.

The overview effect in business

The role of the overview effect in business may not be immediately apparent, but one prominent application is in the future investment in sustainable companies. 

According to Adela Conchado, author of the report Mission, Climate, and Biodiversity, the vision behind a business’s objectives is moving from one based on sustainability to one based on regeneration.

We have to move from complying with regulations and being less harmful to being regenerative and promoting solutions to these environmental challenges”, she noted. 

In essence, the overview effect encourages companies to think beyond sustainability as merely a way to minimize negative impact.

Today, they must develop products and services that prevent harmful impacts before they occur – a value proposition Conchado believes the most successful businesses will increasingly have to develop.

The overview effect’s namesake

The Overview Effect is a company that helps other organizations develop solutions to solve social and environmental problems. 

Combining science, technology, and business, the company works with consultancy firm Indra to devise solutions that are scalable, profitable and part of a broader sustainable ecosystem of stakeholders. 

This ecosystem consists of private companies, government, NGOs, social and impact entrepreneurs, investors, sectoral associations, the media, civil society, scientific institutions, and universities.

The Overview Effect’s mission is comprised of these initiatives:

  • Making organizations aware of global problems, their importance, and the potential positive impacts on their business models.
  • Devising impact strategies based on the integration of global problems into the company’s value chain.
  • Innovation and new ideas or projects that create a positive impact, and
  • Prototypes of impact solutions that generate value for both the planet and the company.

Examples of the Overview Effect:

  • Astronauts’ Experience: When astronauts look back at the Earth from space, they often experience the overview effect. They develop an intense appreciation for the Earth’s beauty, fragility, and interconnectedness, leading to a sense of wonder and awe.
  • Awe and Perspective Expansion: Awe-inspiring experiences on Earth, such as witnessing a breathtaking natural phenomenon or visiting majestic landscapes, can also trigger the overview effect. These experiences expand an individual’s perspective and make them more open to new ideas and experiences.
  • Business Sustainability: The overview effect has implications for businesses, particularly in the context of sustainability. It encourages companies to move beyond merely complying with regulations and minimizing negative impacts. Instead, they are urged to develop products and services that contribute positively to the environment and society, promoting regeneration and lasting solutions.
  • The Overview Effect Company: The Overview Effect is an organization that helps other businesses develop solutions to address social and environmental challenges. The company combines science, technology, and business to create scalable and profitable solutions that contribute to a sustainable ecosystem of stakeholders.
  • Impact Strategies: Businesses influenced by the overview effect focus on developing impact strategies that integrate global problems into their value chains. They seek to create positive impacts on the planet while also generating value for their own growth and success.
  • Altruistic Behavior: The overview effect is associated with a diminished sense of self-concern and increased altruistic behavior. Individuals and organizations that experience the effect are more inclined to consider the greater good and contribute to the well-being of others and the planet.
  • Sustainable Vision: The overview effect challenges businesses to move beyond the notion of sustainability as merely avoiding harm. Instead, they are encouraged to embrace a vision of regeneration, actively promoting solutions to environmental challenges and contributing to a positive future for the Earth and humanity.
  • Perspective Shift: The overview effect represents a cognitive shift where individuals and businesses recognize the interconnectedness of all life and civilizations on Earth. This perspective shift fosters a sense of unity and universal brotherhood, leading to a greater commitment to collective well-being.

Key takeaways

  • The overview effect is a cognitive shift reported by some astronauts when they look back at the Earth from space. The shift occurs because of the impressive visual spectacle of the Earth and is characterized by a state of awe and increased self-transcendence.
  • Recent research into the science of awe shows that one does not need to leave the Earth to experience the overview effect. A sense of awe expands the perspective of an individual such that they are open to new experiences, are less self-involved, and exhibit more altruistic behavior. 
  • At the organizational level, the overview effect is an important facet of developing business models that not only minimize social and environmental damage but also prevent or reverse it to make the Earth (and companies) more resilient.

Key Highlights of the Overview Effect:

  • Cognitive Shift in Space: The overview effect is a cognitive shift experienced by astronauts when they view Earth from space. It leads to awe, a sense of interconnectedness, and increased self-transcendence.
  • Appreciation for Earth: Astronauts gain a deep appreciation for Earth’s fragility and interconnectedness, emphasizing its unique status as a habitable planet in the vast universe.
  • Spiritual Experience: The effect is often described as a spiritual experience, marked by wonder, unity with nature, transcendence, and universal brotherhood.
  • Awe and Perspective: Awe-inducing experiences on Earth can trigger the overview effect by expanding one’s perspective and making them more open to new ideas and experiences.
  • Impact on Behavior: Research suggests that experiences of awe diminish self-concern and increase altruistic behavior, promoting a greater consideration for the well-being of others and the planet.
  • Business and Sustainability: The overview effect has implications for businesses, pushing them beyond regulatory compliance to create products and services that contribute positively to the environment and society.
  • Regenerative Vision: Businesses are encouraged to adopt a regenerative vision, actively working to solve environmental challenges and promote positive impacts, rather than merely minimizing harm.
  • The Overview Effect Company: An organization named “The Overview Effect” helps businesses develop solutions for social and environmental issues, using science, technology, and business strategies.
  • Impact Strategies: Businesses influenced by the overview effect focus on integrating global problems into their value chains and innovating solutions that benefit both the planet and the company.
  • Altruistic Shift: The effect encourages a shift towards altruism, emphasizing collective well-being and contributing to a positive future for the Earth and humanity.
  • Unity and Brotherhood: The overview effect fosters a sense of unity and universal brotherhood, highlighting the shared responsibility for Earth’s health and prosperity.
  • Perspective Shift: Individuals and businesses experiencing the effect recognize the interconnectedness of life and civilizations on Earth, leading to a commitment to collective well-being.

Connected Thinking Frameworks

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. Whereas divergent thinking is an unstructured problem-solving method where participants are encouraged to develop many innovative ideas or solutions to a given problem. Where convergent thinking might work for larger, mature organizations where divergent thinking is more suited for startups and innovative companies.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking involves analyzing observations, facts, evidence, and arguments to form a judgment about what someone reads, hears, says, or writes.


The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Bounded Rationality

Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Lindy Effect

The Lindy Effect is a theory about the ageing of non-perishable things, like technology or ideas. Popularized by author Nicholas Nassim Taleb, the Lindy Effect states that non-perishable things like technology age – linearly – in reverse. Therefore, the older an idea or a technology, the same will be its life expectancy.


Antifragility was first coined as a term by author, and options trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Antifragility is a characteristic of systems that thrive as a result of stressors, volatility, and randomness. Therefore, Antifragile is the opposite of fragile. Where a fragile thing breaks up to volatility; a robust thing resists volatility. An antifragile thing gets stronger from volatility (provided the level of stressors and randomness doesn’t pass a certain threshold).

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a holistic means of investigating the factors and interactions that could contribute to a potential outcome. It is about thinking non-linearly, and understanding the second-order consequences of actions and input into the system.

Vertical Thinking

Vertical thinking, on the other hand, is a problem-solving approach that favors a selective, analytical, structured, and sequential mindset. The focus of vertical thinking is to arrive at a reasoned, defined solution.

Maslow’s Hammer

Maslow’s Hammer, otherwise known as the law of the instrument or the Einstellung effect, is a cognitive bias causing an over-reliance on a familiar tool. This can be expressed as the tendency to overuse a known tool (perhaps a hammer) to solve issues that might require a different tool. This problem is persistent in the business world where perhaps known tools or frameworks might be used in the wrong context (like business plans used as planning tools instead of only investors’ pitches).

Peter Principle

The Peter Principle was first described by Canadian sociologist Lawrence J. Peter in his 1969 book The Peter Principle. The Peter Principle states that people are continually promoted within an organization until they reach their level of incompetence.

Straw Man Fallacy

The straw man fallacy describes an argument that misrepresents an opponent’s stance to make rebuttal more convenient. The straw man fallacy is a type of informal logical fallacy, defined as a flaw in the structure of an argument that renders it invalid.

Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect is a paradoxical phenomenon where the act of suppressing information to reduce visibility causes it to become more visible. In 2003, Streisand attempted to suppress aerial photographs of her Californian home by suing photographer Kenneth Adelman for an invasion of privacy. Adelman, who Streisand assumed was paparazzi, was instead taking photographs to document and study coastal erosion. In her quest for more privacy, Streisand’s efforts had the opposite effect.


As highlighted by German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer in the paper “Heuristic Decision Making,” the term heuristic is of Greek origin, meaning “serving to find out or discover.” More precisely, a heuristic is a fast and accurate way to make decisions in the real world, which is driven by uncertainty.

Recognition Heuristic

The recognition heuristic is a psychological model of judgment and decision making. It is part of a suite of simple and economical heuristics proposed by psychologists Daniel Goldstein and Gerd Gigerenzer. The recognition heuristic argues that inferences are made about an object based on whether it is recognized or not.

Representativeness Heuristic

The representativeness heuristic was first described by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The representativeness heuristic judges the probability of an event according to the degree to which that event resembles a broader class. When queried, most will choose the first option because the description of John matches the stereotype we may hold for an archaeologist.

Take-The-Best Heuristic

The take-the-best heuristic is a decision-making shortcut that helps an individual choose between several alternatives. The take-the-best (TTB) heuristic decides between two or more alternatives based on a single good attribute, otherwise known as a cue. In the process, less desirable attributes are ignored.

Bundling Bias

The bundling bias is a cognitive bias in e-commerce where a consumer tends not to use all of the products bought as a group, or bundle. Bundling occurs when individual products or services are sold together as a bundle. Common examples are tickets and experiences. The bundling bias dictates that consumers are less likely to use each item in the bundle. This means that the value of the bundle and indeed the value of each item in the bundle is decreased.

Barnum Effect

The Barnum Effect is a cognitive bias where individuals believe that generic information – which applies to most people – is specifically tailored for themselves.

First-Principles Thinking

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Ladder Of Inference

The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Goodhart’s Law

Goodhart’s Law is named after British monetary policy theorist and economist Charles Goodhart. Speaking at a conference in Sydney in 1975, Goodhart said that “any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.” Goodhart’s Law states that when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Six Thinking Hats Model

The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Mandela Effect

The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

Moore’s Law

Moore’s law states that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles approximately every two years. This observation was made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 and it become a guiding principle for the semiconductor industry and has had far-reaching implications for technology as a whole.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation as a term was first described by Clayton M. Christensen, an American academic and business consultant whom The Economist called “the most influential management thinker of his time.” Disruptive innovation describes the process by which a product or service takes hold at the bottom of a market and eventually displaces established competitors, products, firms, or alliances.

Value Migration

Value migration was first described by author Adrian Slywotzky in his 1996 book Value Migration – How to Think Several Moves Ahead of the Competition. Value migration is the transferal of value-creating forces from outdated business models to something better able to satisfy consumer demands.

Bye-Now Effect

The bye-now effect describes the tendency for consumers to think of the word “buy” when they read the word “bye”. In a study that tracked diners at a name-your-own-price restaurant, each diner was asked to read one of two phrases before ordering their meal. The first phrase, “so long”, resulted in diners paying an average of $32 per meal. But when diners recited the phrase “bye bye” before ordering, the average price per meal rose to $45.


Groupthink occurs when well-intentioned individuals make non-optimal or irrational decisions based on a belief that dissent is impossible or on a motivation to conform. Groupthink occurs when members of a group reach a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the alternatives and their consequences.


A stereotype is a fixed and over-generalized belief about a particular group or class of people. These beliefs are based on the false assumption that certain characteristics are common to every individual residing in that group. Many stereotypes have a long and sometimes controversial history and are a direct consequence of various political, social, or economic events. Stereotyping is the process of making assumptions about a person or group of people based on various attributes, including gender, race, religion, or physical traits.

Murphy’s Law

Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Murphy’s Law was named after aerospace engineer Edward A. Murphy. During his time working at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949, Murphy cursed a technician who had improperly wired an electrical component and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.”

Law of Unintended Consequences

The law of unintended consequences was first mentioned by British philosopher John Locke when writing to parliament about the unintended effects of interest rate rises. However, it was popularized in 1936 by American sociologist Robert K. Merton who looked at unexpected, unanticipated, and unintended consequences and their impact on society.

Fundamental Attribution Error

Fundamental attribution error is a bias people display when judging the behavior of others. The tendency is to over-emphasize personal characteristics and under-emphasize environmental and situational factors.

Outcome Bias

Outcome bias describes a tendency to evaluate a decision based on its outcome and not on the process by which the decision was reached. In other words, the quality of a decision is only determined once the outcome is known. Outcome bias occurs when a decision is based on the outcome of previous events without regard for how those events developed.

Hindsight Bias

Hindsight bias is the tendency for people to perceive past events as more predictable than they actually were. The result of a presidential election, for example, seems more obvious when the winner is announced. The same can also be said for the avid sports fan who predicted the correct outcome of a match regardless of whether their team won or lost. Hindsight bias, therefore, is the tendency for an individual to convince themselves that they accurately predicted an event before it happened.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger EffectLindy EffectCrowding Out EffectBandwagon Effect.

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