Unintended consequences

Other Names:
Unplanned externalities

In the social sciences, unintended consequences (sometimes unanticipated consequences or unforeseen consequences) are outcomes that are not the ones foreseen and intended by a purposeful action. The term was popularised in the twentieth century by American sociologist Robert K. Merton.

Unintended consequences can be grouped into three types:

Unexpected benefit: A positive unexpected benefit (also referred to as luck, serendipity or a windfall). Unexpected drawback: An unexpected detriment occurring in addition to the desired effect of the policy (e.g., while irrigation schemes provide people with water for agriculture, they can increase waterborne diseases that have devastating health effects, such as schistosomiasis). Perverse result: A perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended (when an intended solution makes a problem worse). This is sometimes referred to as 'backfire'.

The side effects of our decisions may turn up in places we never expected to see them surface.

Problem Type:
F: Fuzzy exceptional problems
Date of last update
30.12.2017 – 10:04 CET