What Is Hawthorne Effect? (Experiment, Example, Explain)

Hawthorne Effect In Details

Hello, intrepid explorers of human behavior and psychology enthusiasts! Have you ever noticed how people seem to change their behavior when they know they’re being watched? Whether it’s a burst of productivity in the workplace or a sudden improvement in manners at the dinner table, this fascinating phenomenon has a name: the Hawthorne Effect.

The Hawthorne effect states that people will ask differently when observed. Naturally, then monitoring will affect employees’ behavior. But does it help or harm productivity? Researchers have been asking this question for over a hundred years. Some have argued that monitoring improves productivity. It can also encourage good behaviors and discourage bad ones.

Hawthorne effect is a psychological phenomenon in which participants change their behavior or performance in response to being observed. Some researchers argue that the Hawthorne effect is like the placebo or demand effect. It is where subjects subconsciously change their behavior to fit the expected results of an experiment. There are two kinds of models of motivation. Firstly, there are process models of how we are motivated. Secondly, there are content models of what motivates us.

We’re diving deep into the heart of this intriguing concept to uncover how awareness of observation can influence behavior. So, get comfortable, bring your curiosity to the forefront, and let’s go on a journey to understand the psychology behind the Hawthorne Effect and its implications in our daily lives!

What Is Hawthorne Effect?

The Hawthorne effect has been incorrectly defined as increasing productivity by paying more attention to workers. But it’s simply not about more attention from management. Without equal importance to the social units that become intensely cohesive groups, you cannot understand the Hawthorne effect without equal importance.

Human factors related to work were more important than physical conditions for the first time. In short, the Hawthorne studies found that workers’ feelings and attitudes affected their work. Hawthorne’s effect showed productivity increased when management paid more attention to workers. However, equal importance should be given to the social units or teams created, demonstrating that human factors are more important than physical conditions or work.

The Hawthorne effect performs better when we know somebody is studying us. For example, a 2015 study of hospital staff hand-washing found that staff was almost three times more likely to wash their hands when they knew they were being studied. The Hawthorne effect comes from an experiment conducted at a US Factory run by General Electric in Hawthorne near Chicago during the 1920s into factors that affected productivity.

When we feel we’re being studied, we improve our behavior. In comparison, the experiment has been described as a glorified anecdote and certainly falls well short of modern social science. It gives rise to this famous Hawthorne effect. Modern studies have confirmed the presence of this effect in a range of scenarios. For example, when teachers are observed in classrooms, they can exhibit better teaching behaviors than when left to their own devices.

When students know they’re being studied and valued, their performance improves. It also means professional practice projects in schools. Whatever they may be, they will usually result in improved teaching outcomes. So get into teams and observe each other; it’ll almost certainly work. When humans know they’re being studied, their performance usually improves. That is the Hawthorne effect.

Example Of Hawthorne Effect

Example 1: In the last years of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, Frederick Winslow Taylor undertook much research into what made people effective and efficient in the workplace. It led him to the idea of scientific management.

If you treat work as a process and treat people like cogs in the machine, you can make that process as efficient as possible. You can do it by studying how people do things and tweaking each element of that process. Taylor was filled with problems and challenges. But it did lead to a revolution in management and management thinking. We need to take a look at one of Taylor’s followers.

Example 2: A chap called Elton Mayo looked to see the effect of one particular tweak on the way people worked. In the late 1920s, Mayo conducted experiments with 20,000 workers at Western Electric Company’s Chicago plant. He was interested in the effects of light levels on workforce productivity. He found that productivity increased when he studied the workforce and interviewed them.

So he reset the light levels, consulted the staff, and then lowered the light levels. What he found was that productivity increased. His productivity increased with almost anything he did to the light levels within a reasonable range. Scientific management said that if you could get the right light level, you could get the best results from the workforce.

What Mayo found was that it seemed to be that the light levels that they had were exactly the worst possible light levels. Because whatever you do improves productivity. Mayo thought about this and realized in the early 30s that it wasn’t the light level that was important. It was consulting the workforce. It led Mayo to abandon scientific management and be what many people think of as the founder of humanistic management.

What Mayo did was reject the view that external circumstances dictate productivity. What is far more important is how people feel in the workplace. When our managers and leaders consult and consider our opinions, we are motivated and improve our performance levels, productivity, and efficiency.

Hawthorne Effect Experiment

However, monitoring can also have a negative effect. Employees can see they are being punished, narrow their experience focus, or feel their autonomy is threatened. How can we effectively use monitoring in the workplace with these conflicting views? When is it useful, and when is it not?

To answer this, we studied a clothing manufacturing plant in the UK. This factory produces trousers and jackets for men’s suits. In 2012, they installed a system that monitored worker activity for selected manufacturing lines. Every time an employee started to work on a task. They would scan an RFID code.

It allowed their progress to be tracked down the production line. We group the tasks the workers perform as these are complex or straightforward. We determined this from the average time workers take to complete a task. We also measured worker efficiency by comparing a worker’s task completion time against that task’s average.

Our results showed that people working on simple tasks had improved results were monitored. They made a game out of their tasks to ward off boredom. A process is known as gamification. However, those working on complex tasks showed decreased productivity. These workers felt that monitoring controlled them and interfered with their work.

How much did productivity change? It rose by 10% for simple tasks, but it fell by 8.5% for complex tasks. In both cases, a significant result. Therefore, monitoring in the workplace is best applied to gamified and straightforward tasks. But best avoided for more complex tasks.

Hawthorne Effect on Sociology

The Hawthorne Effect is significant in sociology, psychology, and business management. It refers to the behavior alteration by the subjects of a study due to their awareness of being observed. The term originates from experiments conducted in the late 1920s and early 1930s at the Hawthorne Works, a Western Electric factory outside Chicago.

Researchers aimed to study the effects of physical conditions (e.g., lighting, work hours) on workers’ productivity. Surprisingly, they found that productivity increased not necessarily in response to the specific experimental changes but because the workers knew they were being observed. This led to the realization that social and psychological factors are critical in workplace behavior and performance.

In sociology, the Hawthorne Effect underscores the importance of considering the social context and human factors when studying behaviors and outcomes. It highlights how individuals adjust their behavior in response to being observed, which complicates the interpretation of social research findings. Here are some ways the Hawthorne Effect influences sociology and related fields:

Research Methodology: The Hawthorne Effect has led to increased scrutiny of how the presence of researchers or the knowledge that one is part of a study influences participants’ behavior. This awareness has pushed sociologists to develop methodologies that minimize the impact of observation on the study’s outcomes.

Workplace Studies: In organizational sociology and management, the Hawthorne Effect has influenced theories of motivation, leadership, and organizational behavior. It suggests that paying attention to employees and showing interest in their well-being can enhance productivity, irrespective of the physical work conditions.

Social Psychology: The effect has implications for understanding how individuals’ awareness of social norms, expectations, and the mere presence of others influence their actions and decisions. It speaks to the broader concept of social conformity and the impact of social observation on behavior.

Educational Research: In education, the Hawthorne Effect is considered when evaluating the impact of new teaching methods, technologies, or environments on student performance. Researchers and educators must account for the possibility that changes in student performance may partly result from students being aware they are being evaluated or participating in something novel.

Health and Clinical Research: The effect is also relevant in clinical trials and health research, where participants’ knowledge that they are being treated or observed influences health outcomes. This phenomenon intersects with the placebo effect.

Hawthorne Effect Psychology

The Hawthorne effect is a psychological phenomenon that refers to the alteration of behavior or performance when people know they are being observed or studied. Here are some key points about the Hawthorne effect:

Increased Performance: The Hawthorne studies found that workers’ productivity improved when they were aware they were being observed. The attention and interest shown by the researchers led to enhanced motivation and effort to perform well.

Social and Psychological Factors: The Hawthorne effect suggests that social and psychological factors can influence individuals’ behavior and performance. These factors may include the desire for recognition, fear of negative consequences, or the belief that their efforts will lead to positive outcomes.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: The Hawthorne effect can be related to the concept of self-fulfilling prophecy. When individuals believe they are being observed, they may alter their behavior to meet the perceived expectations or conform to the anticipated outcomes.

Contextual Factors: The studies at the Hawthorne Works showed that changes in working conditions, such as variations in lighting levels, had a limited direct impact on productivity. Instead, the effect of these changes appeared to be driven by the workers’ perception of being part of an important study and the resulting motivational factors.

Generalizability: The Hawthorne effect is not limited to workplace settings but can apply to various situations where observation or evaluation occurs. It can be observed in educational settings, clinical trials, psychological experiments, and other contexts where individuals are aware of being observed or studied.

Hawthorne Effect On Management

In management, the Hawthorne effect refers to the impact of attention and observation on employee behavior and productivity. Understanding and leveraging the Hawthorne effect can be valuable for managers in creating a positive work environment and enhancing employee performance. Here are some key considerations regarding the Hawthorne effect in management:

Increased Motivation: The Hawthorne effect suggests that when employees feel valued and receive attention from their managers or supervisors, it can boost their motivation and engagement. Managers can harness this effect by providing employees recognition, praise, and feedback, enhancing their sense of importance and job satisfaction.

Improved Productivity: The awareness of being observed can lead employees to put forth more effort and strive for higher performance levels. Managers can leverage this effect by fostering a supportive and encouraging work environment that emphasizes the importance of each employee’s contribution. Setting clear goals, providing regular feedback, and offering opportunities for growth and development can motivate employees to perform at their best.

Open Communication: The Hawthorne effect highlights the significance of communication and involvement in management. When employees feel that their opinions and ideas are valued, it can positively impact their motivation and performance. Managers can create an open and inclusive environment where employees are encouraged to share their thoughts, provide input, and participate in decision-making.

Team Dynamics: The Hawthorne effect also emphasizes the role of social dynamics and peer influence in the workplace. Managers can leverage this effect by fostering a positive team culture and encouraging collaboration and teamwork. When employees feel connected to their colleagues and work in a supportive team environment, it can enhance their motivation and overall performance.

Hawthorne Effect On Research

The Hawthorne effect in research refers to the phenomenon where study participants alter their behavior or performance simply because they know they are being observed or studied.

Here are some key considerations regarding the Hawthorne effect in research:

Altered Behavior: When participants know they are being studied, they may change their behavior to align with perceived expectations or meet the anticipated outcomes. This can result in participants behaving differently than they would in their natural settings, potentially influencing the validity and generalizability of the research findings.

Enhanced Performance: The Hawthorne effect can lead to improved performance by participants who strive to present themselves positively or demonstrate desired behaviors. This effect may be particularly prominent in studies focusing on subjective measures, such as self-report questionnaires or interviews.

Demand Characteristics: Participants may also respond to implicit or explicit cues provided by the researcher or research setting, which can shape their behavior. This is known as demand characteristics. Participants may try to figure out the purpose of the study and modify their behavior accordingly, potentially impacting the reliability and validity of the study’s results.

Researcher-Participant Relationship: The relationship between researchers and participants can influence the Hawthorne effect. Participants may try to please the researchers or provide responses they believe the researchers want to hear. Building rapport, ensuring confidentiality, and emphasizing the importance of honest and authentic responses can help mitigate the impact of the Hawthorne effect.

Ethical Considerations: Researchers have an ethical responsibility to minimize the Hawthorne effect and ensure that participants’ rights and well-being are prioritized. Researchers should design studies that minimize observer effects, maintain confidentiality, and provide clear information about the study’s purpose, procedures, and voluntary participation.

Hawthorne Effect On Education

In education, the Hawthorne effect refers to the phenomenon where students’ behavior and performance can be influenced by the awareness of being observed or studied by teachers or researchers. Here are some key considerations regarding the Hawthorne effect in education:

Increased Effort and Engagement: When students know they are being observed or their performance is being evaluated, it can enhance their motivation, effort, and engagement. The attention and interest shown by teachers or researchers can create a sense of importance and accountability, leading to improved student performance.

Positive Teacher-Student Interaction: The Hawthorne effect emphasizes the significance of positive teacher-student interactions. Teachers showing interest, encouraging, and offering feedback can positively influence students’ motivation, self-esteem, and willingness to learn. Positive relationships between teachers and students can foster a supportive and conducive learning environment.

Altered Behavior: The Hawthorne effect can change students’ behavior and performance beyond their usual patterns. Students may modify their behavior to meet perceived expectations or to conform to what they believe is desired by teachers or researchers. This alteration in behavior may not accurately represent their natural tendencies or abilities.

Impact of Assessment: The Hawthorne effect is particularly relevant during assessments or examinations. Students’ performance can be influenced by the awareness of being observed or evaluated. They may put forth more effort, demonstrate higher performance levels, or experience test anxiety due to the significance of the evaluation process.

Ethical Considerations: Educators and researchers must be mindful of the potential influence of the Hawthorne effect and maintain ethical standards in educational research. It is essential to prioritize the well-being and rights of students, ensuring informed consent, confidentiality, and transparency in research practices.

Educators can leverage the Hawthorne effect to create a positive and motivating learning environment.

By understanding how and why individuals alter their actions under observation, we gain valuable insights into the complexities of human psychology and the subtle dynamics of social interaction. We hope this journey has enlightened you, sparking curiosity and perhaps even a bit of self-reflection about how you might respond under the watchful eyes of others.

Thank you for joining us on this psychological adventure. Remember, the world of human behavior is vast and full of mysteries waiting to be uncovered. Until our next exploration, keep observing, questioning, and, most importantly, discovering the wonders of the human mind. Farewell, and may your observations lead you to fascinating discoveries!

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Levitt, S. D.; List, J. A. “Was there a Hawthorne effect at the Hawthorne plant? An analysis of the original illumination experiments”.
Olson, R.; Verley, J.; Santos, L.; Salas. “What We Teach Students About the Hawthorne Studies: A Review of Content Within a Sample of Introductory I-O and OB Textbooks.” The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist.

Julia Rose

My name is Julia Rose. I'm a registered clinical therapist, researcher, and coach. I'm the author of this blog. There are also two authors: Dr. Monica Ciagne, a registered psychologist and motivational coach, and Douglas Jones, a university lecturer & science researcher.I would love to hear your opinion, question, suggestions, please let me know. We will try to help you.

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