Hawthorne effect

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 productivity.

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.

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