What is the Hawthorne effect?
The Hawthorne effect is the tendency of people who are the subject of an experimental study to modify or improve the behavior evaluated only because it is studied and not because of changes in the parameters of the experiment or in the stimulus.
Key points to remember
- The Hawthorne effect is when the subjects of an experimental study try to change or improve their behavior simply because it is evaluated or studied.
- The term was coined in experiments that took place at the Western Electric plant on the outskirts of Hawthorne in Chicago in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
- It is believed that the Hawthorne effect is inevitable in studies and experiments that use humans as subjects.
How the Hawthorne effect works
The Hawthorne effect refers to the fact that people will change their behavior simply because they are observed. The effect takes its name from one of the most famous experiments in industrial history that took place at the Western Electric plant on the outskirts of Hawthorne in Chicago in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
However, a subsequent analysis of the effect by economists at the University of Chicago in 2009 revealed that the original results were probably overestimated.
The Hawthorne experiments were originally designed by the National Research Council to study the effect of workshop lighting on the productivity of workers at a telephone parts factory in Hawthorne. However, the researchers were puzzled to find that productivity improved, not only when lighting was improved, but also when lighting decreased. Productivity improves whenever changes are made to other variables such as hours of work and breaks.
The researchers concluded that workers’ productivity was not affected by changes in working conditions, but rather by the fact that someone was sufficiently concerned about their working conditions to conduct an experiment on this subject.
The Hawthorne effect and modern research
Research is often based on human subjects. In these cases, the Hawthorne effect is the intrinsic bias that researchers must take into account when studying their results. While it may be difficult to determine how a subject’s awareness of a study can change their behavior, researchers should nonetheless strive to be alert to this phenomenon and adapt accordingly .
Although there is no universally accepted methodology for achieving this, experience and attention to the situation can help researchers prevent this effect from tarnishing their results.
While it may be difficult to determine how a subject’s awareness of a study can change their behavior, researchers should nonetheless strive to be alert to this phenomenon and adapt accordingly .
The Hawthorne effect in practice
As an example of the Hawthorne effect, consider a study conducted in 1978 to determine whether cerebellar neurostimulators could reduce motor dysfunction in young people with cerebral palsy. The objective tests revealed that the study patients claimed that their motor dysfunction had decreased and that they had adopted the treatment. But this patient feedback thwarted the quantitative analysis, which demonstrated that there were few increased motor functions.
Indeed, the increased human interaction with doctors, nurses, therapists and other medical personnel during these trials had a positive psychological impact on the patients, which consequently favored their illusion of physical improvement. their condition. When analyzing the results, the researchers concluded that the Hawthorne effect had a negative impact on the data, as there was no evidence that cerebellar neurostimulators were measurably effective.