15 Names and Descriptions of Effects

By Mark Nichol

We’ve all heard about one behavioral or scientific effect or another, but perhaps we’re not sure we’re getting the name right, or even that we mean the one we think we do when we name it. Here are the labels of the most ubiquitous of effects and the thesis or the scientific principle underlying each one.

1. Bambi effect: Animals widely perceived as visually appealing will be given more consideration or sympathy than those deemed less attractive. (A rare additional connotation refers to homosexual men who engage in heterosexual behavior.)

2. Butterfly effect: A seemingly inconsequential event or incident can have momentous consequences.

3. Domino effect: Each in a series of events or incidents causes the subsequent phenomena.

4. Doppler effect: A wave’s frequency changes in relation to the relative position of the source or the observer.

5. Greenhouse effect: Heat emanating from a planetary surface will be absorbed and redistributed by atmospheric gases back to the surface or into the atmosphere, resulting in an increase in temperature.

6. Halo effect: The more attractive or appealing a person or other entity is, the more favorably they will be evaluated or the more sympathetically they will be treated.

7. Hawthorne effect: People being observed as part of a study will perform better or otherwise as expected simply because they know they are being studied.

8. Hundredth-monkey effect: A thought or behavior is widely and suddenly distributed through a group once a critical number of members of that group are exposed to the thought or behavior. (This theory is basically valid, but the claim of instantaneous transmission has been discredited.)

9. Mozart effect: Listening to music composed by Mozart temporarily improves performance on mental tasks. (This theory has been distorted to suggest that doing so makes the listener smarter; furthermore, additional studies have concluded that the specific composer or music genre, or whether one listens specifically to music at all, is irrelevant; experiencing anything one enjoys may improve performance.)

10. Placebo effect: Patients given secretly ineffectual or simulated treatment will perceive that their condition has improved, or that it will improve, because they believe the treatment has benefited or will benefit them.

11. Pygmalion effect: The more that is expected of people, the better they will perform.

12. Ripple effect: A single incident or occurrence may have consequences and ramifications beyond the scope of the original phenomenon.

13. Snowball effect: See “ripple effect.”

14. Streisand effect: Attempts to censor or conceal information lead to increased publicity.

15. Trickle-down effect: A consumer item may initially be affordable only for the affluent, but its price will likely decrease until people of more modest means can afford it (at which time it often becomes less attractive to wealthier people).

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19 Responses to “15 Names and Descriptions of Effects”

  • venqax

    How about the affect effect? I think that’s when one over-interprets a point for reasons not related to the point itself, but rather for reasons of tangential concern.

    The Real Problem with Doppler effect is that it is not so much an idiomatic expression that is used in general speech to describe something via analogy, but is rather a technical term for a specific empirical phenomenon. So perhaps it shouldn’t be on the list. No more ripples or snowballs.

  • Sally

    “15. Trickle-down effect”
    This is distinct from Milton Friedman’s infamous doctrine of “trickle-down economics,” the idea that one should fill the pockets of capitalists with money that will then be used “to create jobs and wealth for everybody.”

    Of course, it works *wonderfully* – at least as far as the pockets are concerned!

  • Warsaw Will

    @Bill – I initially thought the same as you, but a quick check shows that Mark is right here. What we’re thinking of is trickle-down theory or trickle-down economics.

  • Jean Kearsley

    Since this is a column/blog about writing, I think it’s worth pointing out that the third effect noted should read “Each . . . causes the subsequent phenomenon,” not “phenomena.”

    Although the butterfly, ripple and snowball effects encompass, to an extent, the causative impact of a beginning event on all subsequent happenings, the domino effect specifically looks at the event-to-event interactions of a series of phenomena, each of which “causes the subsequent [individual] phenomenon.”

  • Dale A. Wood

    @Carlos Montfort: “Under [the] 4th effect from your list, there is no wave frequency change, it is just an apparent wave frequency change.

    No, Mr. Montfort, the change in frequency or wavelength that exist because of the Doppler effect are not “apparent” in that they are NOT just something that is perceived in the human mind. For either sound, light, or radio waves, the Doppler effect is something that is real and it can be measured with scientific instruments. There are instruments that are made to measure the wavelength or frequency of sound, and for electromagnetic waves, we use interferometers and other instruments to measure wavelengths, and spectrometers, spectrograms, and other instruments to measure frequencies (e.g. resonant cavities).

    There is a key equation that is unfamiliar to many people that I will give to you now. For any kind of a wave, let C be the velocity of propagation of the wave**. Let L = lambda = the wavelength of the wave; and let F = the frequency of the wave.
    Then we always have L = C/F ; F = C/L; and LxF = C. Hence, whenever the frequency goes up, the wavelength goes down, and vice-versa. This is caused “inverse proportionality”.
    Thus if a train approaches you with its whistle blowing, the frequency goes up, but the wavelength goes down. This is because the speed of sound at the surface of the Earth is a constant, for all practical purposes. All of the changes in frequency and wavelength can be measured, and they are not mere illusions.

    **For sound, there has to be air or some other medium for the sound waves to propage through. In contrast, for electromagnetic waves such as light and radio, they do not need anything. They propagate through a vacuum (through “free space”) just as well as they propage through anything else, and in fact they “prefer” free space. The speed of light in a vacuum is very close to 300,000 kilometers per second. I have seen numbers that are like 299,797 to six digits.
    A substance like air, glass, or water actually slows light down a little bit, and I could give you an equation for that too.

  • Dale A. Wood

    @thebluebird11: Because of the Principle of Relativity, as stated by Einstein, there is no such thing as absolute velocity. You could visualize the remote object as moving, or the observer moving, or both moving (relative to what?), or one of them standing still. What is important is their relative velocity concerning one another. Also, concerning position, what is important is the position of two objects relative to one another. There is no absolute coordinate frame in problems like these.

    Given the vector distance between the two objects, the radial velocity between the two is the derivative of the distance with respect to time. This radial velocity is what is important in the Doppler effect. It doesn’t matter if the two objects are 10 miles apart or 100,000 light-years apart: the Doppler effect is the same.

    Something else that does not count is any velocity that is perpendicular to the straight line that connects the two objects. It is thought (from theory) that space has some “curvature” to it, but thus far physicists and astronomers have been unable to measure this at all.

    If space is curved, then the three angles of a (large-enough) triangle would not add up to 180 degrees. However, so far EVERY triangle measured has had three angles that add up to 180 degrees – within the accuracy of the instruments that have been used. You can believe me that so far, physicists have used instruments of the most exquistite accuracy – using laser beams, very finely-polished mirrors, the best interferomenters, and so forth.

    The next step is in the works, and if the funding continues, NASA will put three satellites into very high orbits, connect them with three laser beams, and then measure all of the angles that are created.

  • Bill

    I thought the trickle-down effect referred to the rich spending so much more on things like swimming pools, tourism and luxury items that the money would reach those with lower incomes. Or am I confusing it with trickle-down theory?

  • Dale A. Wood

    Note that when I wrote my comment about the Doppler effect, there were not any comments visible. Three of us responded on that one nearly siimultaneously.

    The Doppler effect in light and radio waves is the same whether the two objects are within 100 km of the Earth, or if one is a galaxy or a star five miillion light-years away and the observer is on the surface of the Earth.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I think that the author of this article would have great difficulty with these: the photoelectric effect, the piezoelectric effect, the Hall effect, and the Compton effect – considering the problems that he had with the Doppler effect.
    There is always the option of asking someone like Robert Blau or Dale A. Wood questions about technical things, especially in physics, engineering, and telecommunications. You have our e-mail addresses.

  • thebluebird11

    Re: Doppler effect controversy above (and I am not a rocket scientist): I don’t see why “position” is incorrect, because the observer could be standing still OR could be moving (i.e. changing position) relative to the wave frequency source. Use of the word “position” should not be assumed to mean that the observer is static (i.e. zero velocity).
    @Mark: Love the list! Never heard of some of these before. Will try to commit them to memory (LOL@Streisand effect). Hope I will remember them when the situation calls for it 🙂 Thanks!

  • Brian Wasko

    Mark, I am so impressed with your always interesting post topics. I would never have thought of a list of “effects.” Interesting and helpful as always.

  • ARM2008

    I don’t think ripple effect and snowball effect are the same. A ripple effect would spread in all directions and be more subtle, with the outer areas stimulated at a lower level than the center. A snowball effect is something that picks up momentum and size and has a larger impact than the start.

  • Carlos Montfort

    Under # 5 you should use heat instead the word temperature.

  • Carlos Montfort

    Under 4th effect from your list, there is no wave frequency change, it is just an apparent wave frequency change due to the movement of either the sound source or the person hearing.

  • Jan Arzooman

    Very helpful list, including some I’d never heard of, such as Pygmalion effect before (The more that is expected of people, the better they will perform). Thanks.

  • Curt McAloney

    Isn’t the butterfly effect just another name for the snowball and ripple effect?

  • Dale A. Wood

    “4. Doppler effect: A wave’s frequency changes in relation to the relative position of the source or the observer.”

    This is quite incorrect because the Doppler effect does not depend on the positions, but rather it depends on the relative velocity between the two. Furthermore, what counts is the velocity along the straight line that connects the two. The velocity along lines perpendicular to this does not count.
    The important velocity is also called the “radial velocity”.

  • Al Katz

    Doppler shift depends on the relative velocity of the source to the observer – not the position.

  • Ben

    The Doppler effect is due to differences in relative velocity, not position.

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