A psychology term. Its name comes from a place (Hawthorne plant of
Western Electric, outside Chicago, 1924-1932), not a person. The
effect was first noticed there.
Hawthorne effect is 'an increased performance or productivity caused by
the evident observation of that process'. Thus, the increased
performance produced by the psychological
stimulus of being singled out and made to feel important, not as a
consequence of actual changes in working conditions. The Hawthorne
Effect is essentially an observer effect. As such it is reminiscent of
certain principles of quantum mechanics. The very act of observing a
system - in this case a workplace - will in itself affect that system.
The term was coined in 1955 by Henry A. Landsberger when analyzing
older experiments from at the Hawthorne. 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 was due to the
motivational effect 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
In 1966, Roethlisberger and William Dickson published Counseling in an
Organization, which revisited lessons gained from the experiments.
Roethlisberger described “the Hawthorne effect” as the
phenomenon in which subjects in behavioral studies change their
performance in response to being observed. Many critics have reexamined
the studies from methodological and ideological perspectives; others
find the overarching questions and theories of the time have new
relevance in light of the current focus on collaborative management.
The experiments remain a telling case study of researchers and
subsequent scholars who interpret the data through the lens of their
own times and particular biases.
The influence of the Hawthorne Effect is generally cited as positive
improvement, akin to a placebo effect. The ususal explanation is that
workers feel motivated as a result of the experiment itself. They feel
that they are being listened to and valued. They also bind better as a
social unit producing a new group dynamic. In addition there is an
element of "a change is as good as a rest".
The result of the Effect need not be positive. If the study is taking
place without the goodwill of the workforce then they might have a
subconscious desire for it to fail.
Any comment about this page?
Your feedback is appreciated. Please click
Follow & Share
Scientific Spine mailing list,