Hawthorne effect

The Hawthorne effect is a form of reactivity whereby subjects improve or modify an aspect of their behavior being experimentally measured simply in response to the fact that they know they are being studied,[1][2] not in response to any particular experimental manipulation.

The term was coined in 1950 by Henry A. Landsberger[3] when analysing older experiments from 1924-1932 at the Hawthorne Works (a Western Electric factory outside Chicago). Hawthorne Works had commissioned a study to see if its workers would become more productive in higher or lower levels of light. The workers' productivity seemed to improve when changes were made and slumped when the study was concluded. It was suggested that the productivity gain occurred due to the impact of the motivational effect on the workers as a result of the interest being shown in them. Although illumination research of workplace lighting formed the basis of the Hawthorne effect, other changes such as maintaining clean work stations, clearing floors of obstacles, and even relocating workstations resulted in increased productivity for short periods. Thus the term is used to identify any type of short-lived increase in productivity.[3][4][5][dead link]



The term gets its name from a factory called the Hawthorne Works,[6] where a series of experiments on factory workers was carried out between 1924 and 1932.

This effect was observed for minute increases in illumination.

Evaluation of the Hawthorne effect continues in the present day.[7][8][9]

Most industrial/occupational psychology and organizational behavior textbooks refer to the illumination studies. Only occasionally are the rest of the studies mentioned.[10] In the lighting studies, light intensity was altered to examine its effect on worker productivity.

Relay assembly experiments

In one of the studies, experimenters chose two women as test subjects and asked them to choose four other workers to join the test group. Together the women worked in a separate room over the course of five years (1927–1932) assembling telephone relays.

Output was measured mechanically by counting how many finished relays each worker dropped down a chute. This measuring began in secret two weeks before moving the women to an experiment room and continued throughout the study. In the experiment room, they had a supervisor who discussed changes with them and at times used their suggestions. Then the researchers spent five years measuring how different variables impacted the group's and individuals' productivity. Some of the variables were:

  • giving two 5-minute breaks (after a discussion with them on the best length of time), and then changing to two 10-minute breaks (not their preference). Productivity increased, but when they received six 5-minute rests, they disliked it and reduced output.
  • providing food during the breaks
  • shortening the day by 30 minutes (output went up); shortening it more (output per hour went up, but overall output decreased); returning to the first condition (where output peaked).

Changing a variable usually increased productivity, even if the variable was just a change back to the original condition. However it is said that this is the natural process of the human being to adapt to the environment without knowing the objective of the experiment occurring. Researchers concluded that the workers worked harder because they thought that they were being monitored individually.

Researchers hypothesized that choosing one's own coworkers, working as a group, being treated as special (as evidenced by working in a separate room), and having a sympathetic supervisor were the real reasons for the productivity increase. One interpretation, mainly due to Elton Mayo,[citation needed] was that "the six individuals became a team and the team gave itself wholeheartedly and spontaneously to cooperation in the experiment." (There was a second relay assembly test room study whose results were not as significant as the first experiment.)

Bank wiring room experiments

The purpose of the next study was to find out how payment incentives would affect productivity. The surprising result was that productivity actually decreased. Workers apparently had become suspicious that their productivity may have been boosted to justify firing some of the workers later on.[11] The study was conducted by Elton Mayo and W. Lloyd Warner between 1931 and 1932 on a group of fourteen men who put together telephone switching equipment. The researchers found that although the workers were paid according to individual productivity, productivity decreased because the men were afraid that the company would lower the base rate. Detailed observation between the men revealed the existence of informal groups or "cliques" within the formal groups. These cliques developed informal rules of behavior as well as mechanisms to enforce them. The cliques served to control group members and to manage bosses; when bosses asked questions, clique members gave the same responses, even if they were untrue. These results show that workers were more responsive to the social force of their peer groups than to the control and incentives of management.

Interpretation and criticism

H. McIlvaine Parsons (1974) argues that in the studies where subjects received feedback on their work rates, the results should be considered biased by the feedback compared to the manipulation studies. He also argues that the rest periods involved possible learning effects, and the fear that the workers had about the intent of the studies may have biased the results.

Parsons defines the Hawthorne effect as "the confounding that occurs if experimenters fail to realise how the consequences of subjects' performance affect what subjects do" [i.e. learning effects, both permanent skill improvement and feedback-enabled adjustments to suit current goals]. His key argument is that in the studies where workers dropped their finished goods down chutes, the "girls" had access to the counters of their work rate.

It is possible that the illumination experiments were explained by a longitudinal learning effect.[citation needed] It is notable however that Parsons refuses to analyse the illumination experiments, on the grounds that they have not been properly published and so he cannot get at details, whereas he had extensive personal communication with Roethlisberger and Dickson.

But Mayo says it is to do with the fact that the workers felt better in the situation, because of the sympathy and interest of the observers. He does say that this experiment is about testing overall effect, not testing factors separately. He also discusses it not really as an experimenter effect but as a management effect: how management can make workers perform differently because they feel differently. A lot to do with feeling free, not feeling supervised but more in control as a group. The experimental manipulations were important in convincing the workers to feel this way: that conditions were really different. The experiment was repeated with similar effects on mica splitting workers.[citation needed]

Richard E. Clark and Timothy F. Sugrue (1991, p. 333) in a review of educational research say that uncontrolled novelty effects cause on average 30% of a standard deviation (SD) rise (i.e. 50%-63% score rise), which decays to small level after 8 weeks. In more detail: 50% of a SD for up to 4 weeks; 30% of SD for 5–8 weeks; and 20% of SD for > 8 weeks, (which is < 1% of the variance).

A psychology professor at the University of Michigan, Richard Nisbett, calls the Hawthorne effect 'a glorified anecdote.' 'Once you have got the anecdote,' he said, 'you can throw away the data.'"[12]

Harry Braverman points out in Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century that the Hawthorne tests were based on industrial psychology and were investigating whether workers' performance could be predicted by pre-hire testing. The Hawthorne study showed "that the performance of workers had little relation to ability and in fact often bore an inverse relation to test scores...". Braverman argues that the studies really showed that the workplace was not "a system of bureaucratic formal organisation on the Weberian model, nor a system of informal group relations, as in the interpretation of Mayo and his followers but rather a system of power, of class antagonisms". This discovery was a blow to those hoping to apply the behavioral sciences to manipulate workers in the interest of management.[13]

The Hawthorne effect has been well established in the empirical literature beyond the original studies. The output ("dependent") variables were human work, and the educational effects can be expected to be similar (but it is not so obvious that medical effects would be). The experiments stand as a warning about simple experiments on human participants viewed as if they were only material systems. There is less certainty about the nature of the surprise factor, other than it certainly depended on the mental states of the participants: their knowledge, beliefs, etc.

Research on the demand effect also suggests that people might take on pleasing the experimenter as a goal, at least if it does not conflict with any other motive,[14] but also, improving their performance by improving their skill will be dependent on getting feedback on their performance, and an experiment may give them this for the first time. So you often will not see any Hawthorne effect—only when it turns out that with the attention came either usable feedback or a change in motivation.

Adair (1984): warns of gross factual inaccuracy in most secondary publications on Hawthorne effect and that many studies failed to find it. He argues that it should be viewed as a variant of Orne's (1973) experimental demand effect. So for Adair, the issue is that an experimental effect depends on the participants' interpretation of the situation; that this is why manipulation checks are important in social sciences experiments. So he thinks it is not awareness per se, nor special attention per se, but participants' interpretation must be investigated in order to discover if/how the experimental conditions interact with the participants' goals. This can affect whether participants believe something, if they act on it or do not see it as in their interest, etc.

Rosenthal and Jacobson (1992) ch.11 also reviews and discusses the Hawthorne effect.[15]

In a 2011 paper, economists Steven Levitt and John A. List claim that in the illumination experiments the variance in productivity is partly accounted for by other factors such as the weekly cycle of work or the seasonal temperature, and so the original conclusions were overstated.[16] If so, this confirms the analysis of SRG Jones's 1992 article examining the relay experiments.[17][18]

See also


  1. ^ McCarney R, Warner J, Iliffe S, van Haselen R, Griffin M, Fisher P (2007). "The Hawthorne Effect: a randomised, controlled trial". BMC Med Res Methodol 7: 30. doi:10.1186/1471-2288-7-30. PMC 1936999. PMID 17608932. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2288/7/30. 
  2. ^ Fox NS, Brennan JS, Chasen ST (December 2008). "Clinical estimation of fetal weight and the Hawthorne effect". Eur. J. Obstet. Gynecol. Reprod. Biol. 141 (2): 111–4. doi:10.1016/j.ejogrb.2008.07.023. PMID 18771841. http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0301-2115(08)00300-X. 
  3. ^ a b Henry A. Landsberger, Hawthorne Revisited, Ithaca, 1958.
  4. ^ Elton Mayo, Hawthorne and the Western Electric Company, The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilisation, Routledge, 1949.
  5. ^ "MOTIVATION AT WORK: a key issue in remuneration", Dr. Angela M. Bowey, webpage: Arnewood-motivation2.
  6. ^ "The Hawthorne Works" from Assembly Magazine
  7. ^ Kohli E, Ptak J, Smith R, Taylor E, Talbot EA, Kirkland KB (March 2009). "Variability in the Hawthorne effect with regard to hand hygiene performance in high- and low-performing inpatient care units". Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 30 (3): 222–5. doi:10.1086/595692?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori:rid:crossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub=ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. PMID 19199530. 
  8. ^ Cocco G (2009). "Erectile dysfunction after therapy with metoprolol: the hawthorne effect". Cardiology 112 (3): 174–7. doi:10.1159/000147951. PMID 18654082. http://content.karger.com/produktedb/produkte.asp?typ=fulltext&file=000147951. 
  9. ^ Leonard KL (March 2008). "Is patient satisfaction sensitive to changes in the quality of care? An exploitation of the Hawthorne effect". J Health Econ 27 (2): 444–59. doi:10.1016/j.jhealeco.2007.07.004. PMID 18192043. http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0167-6296(07)00095-1. 
  10. ^ What We Teach Students About the Hawthorne Studies: A Review of Content Within a Sample of Introductory I-O and OB Textbooks
  11. ^ Henslin, James M. (2008). Sociology: a down to earth approach (9th ed.). Pearson Education. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-205-57023-2. 
  12. ^ Kolata, G. (December 6, 1998). "Scientific Myths That Are Too Good to Die". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1998/12/06/weekinreview/scientific-myths-that-are-too-good-to-die.html. 
  13. ^ Braverman, Harry (1974). Labor and Monopoly Capitalism. New York: Monthly Review Press. pp. 144–145. 
  14. ^ Steele-Johnson, D. (2000). "Goal orientation and task demand effects on motivation, affect, and performance". The Journal of Applied Psychology 85 (5): 724–738. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.85.5.724. 
  15. ^ Rosenthal, R. & Jacobson, L. (1968, 1992) Pygmalion in the classroom: Teacher expectation and pupils' intellectual development. Irvington publishers: New York.
  16. ^ Levitt, Steven D. & List, John A. (2011). "Was There Really a Hawthorne Effect at the Hawthorne Plant? An Analysis of the Original Illumination Experiments". American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 3 (1): 224–238. doi:10.1257/app.3.1.224. 
  17. ^ Light work. The Economist. June 6th 2009. p. 80. http://www.economist.com/finance/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13788427 
  18. ^ Jones, Stephen R. G. (1992). "Was there a Hawthorne effect?". American Journal of Sociology 98 (3): 451–468. doi:10.1086/230046. JSTOR 2781455. 

Further reading

  • Adair, G. (1984). "The Hawthorne effect: A reconsideration of the methodological artifact". Journal of Applied Psychology 69 (2): 334–345. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.69.2.334.  [Reviews references to Hawthorne in the psychology methodology literature.]
  • Bramel, D. & Friend, R. (1981). "Hawthorne, the myth of the docile worker, and class bias in psychology". American Psychologist 36 (8): 867–878. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.36.8.867. 
  • Clark, R. E. & Sugrue, B. M. (1991). Anglin, G. J.. ed. Instructional technology: past, present, and future. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries unlimited. pp. 327–343. ISBN 0872878201. 
  • Gillespie, Richard (1991). Manufacturing knowledge: a history of the Hawthorne experiments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521403588. 
  • Jastrow (1900). Fact and fable in psychology. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 
  • Jones, Stephen R. G. (1992). "Was there a Hawthorne effect?". American Journal of Sociology 98 (3): 451–468. JSTOR 2781455. 
  • Landsberger, Henry A. (1958). Hawthorne Revisited. Ithaca. 
  • Lovett, R. (20 March 2004). "Running on empty". New Scientist 181 (2439): 42–45. 
  • Leonard, K. L. & Masatu, M. C. (2006). "Outpatient process quality evaluation and the Hawthorne effect". Social Science and Medicine 69 (9): 2330–2340. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2006.06.003. 
  • Levitt, Steven D. & List, John A. (2011). "Was There Really a Hawthorne Effect at the Hawthorne Plant? An Analysis of the Original Illumination Experiments". American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 3 (1): 224–238. doi:10.1257/app.3.1.224. 
  • Marsh, H. W. (1987). "Student's evaluations of university teaching: research findings, methodological issues, and directions for future research". International Journal of Educational Research 11 (3): 253–388. doi:10.1016/0883-0355(87)90001-2. 
  • Mayo, Elton (1933). The human problems of an industrial civilisation. New York: MacMillan. 
  • Mayo, Elton (1949). Hawthorne and the Western Electric Company. The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilisation. Routledge. 
  • Mayo, Gael Elton (1984). The Mad Mosaic: A Life Story. London: Quartet. ISBN 0704323605. 
  • Orne, M. T. (1973). "Communication by the total experimental situation: Why is it important, how it is evaluated, and its significance for the ecological validity of findings". In Pliner, P.; Krames, L.; Alloway, T.. Communication and affect. New York: Academic Press. pp. 157–191. ISBN 0120530503. 
  • Parsons, H. M. (1974). "What happened at Hawthorne?: New evidence suggests the Hawthorne effect resulted from operant reinforcement contingencies". Science 183 (4128): 922–932. doi:10.1126/science.183.4128.922. PMID 17756742.  [A very detailed description, in a more accessible source, of some of the experiments; used to argue that the effect was due to feedback-promoted learning.]
  • Roethlisberger, Fritz J.; Dickson, W. J. (1939). Management and the Worker. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 
  • Rosenthal, R. (1966). Experimenter effects in behavioral research. New York: Appleton. 
  • Rhem, J. (1999). "Pygmalion in the classroom". The national teaching and learning forum 8 (2): 1–4. 
  • Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. London: Temple Smith. ISBN 0851172318. 
  • Shayer, M. (1992). "Problems and issues in intervention studies". In Demetriou, A.; Shayer, M.; Efklides, A.. Neo-Piagetian theories of cognitive development: implications and applications for education. Eastern

London: Routledge. pp. 107–121. ISBN 0415054710. 

  • Trahair, Richard C. S. & Zaleznik, Abraham (2005). Elton Mayo: The Humanist Temper. London: Transaction Publishers. ISBN 1412805244. 
  • Wall, P. D. (1999). Pain: the science of suffering and lack of skills. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0297842552. 
  • Zdep, S. M. & Irvine, S. H. (1970). "A reverse Hawthorne effect in educational evaluation". Journal of School Psychology 8 (2): 89–95. doi:10.1016/0022-4405(70)90025-7. 

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  • Hawthorne effect — ☆ Hawthorne effect n. [after the Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Co. in Cicero, Ill., where studies of worker performance were made in 1927] improvement in performance, as by workers or students, resulting from mere awareness that… …   English World dictionary

  • Hawthorne effect — Haw‧thorne ef‧fect ➔ effect …   Financial and business terms

  • hawthorne effect —  Study which found that any changes in working conditions improved productivity.  ► “Hawthorne effect refers to the findings of a 1924 study that measured the correlation between specific working conditions and output. It showed that productivity …   American business jargon

  • Hawthorne effect — Psychol. a positive change in the performance of a group of persons taking part in an experiment or study due to their perception of being singled out for special consideration. [1960 65; after the Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Company …   Universalium

  • hawthorne effect — ˈhȯˌthȯrn , ˌthȯ(ə)n noun Usage: usually capitalized H Etymology: from the Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Co., Cicero, Ill., where the effect s existence was established by experiment : the stimulation to increase output or… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Hawthorne effect — noun Etymology: from the Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Co., Cicero, Ill., where its existence was established by experiment Date: 1962 the stimulation to output or accomplishment that results from the mere fact of being under… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Hawthorne effect — /ˈhɔθɔn əfɛkt/ (say hawthawn uhfekt) noun the theoretical phenomenon of increase in worker productivity being less greatly promoted by changes to individual working environments, office procedures, etc., than by greater degrees of communication… …   Australian English dictionary

  • Hawthorne effect — Gen Mgt see Hawthorne experiments …   The ultimate business dictionary

  • Hawthorne effect — noun An effect on a study due to a change, due to being observed, in the behavior of a subject being studied …   Wiktionary

  • the Hawthorne effect — UK US noun ► HR the theory that people’s performance at work improves if they know they are being studied or being given special attention by management: »The fact that people who knew they were taking part in the study performed better may have… …   Financial and business terms

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