What is the Hawthorne effect? The Hawthorne effect is a term used in psychology to describe the change in behavior that occurs when an individual or group of people are aware they are being observed. In this article, we will explore the definition of the Hawthorne effect, its implications, and how long it lasts.

What is the Hawthorne Effect?

The Hawthorne effect is the phenomenon of people changing their behavior when they know they are being observed. The psychology behind this phenomenon is that people change their behavior when they know it will be evaluated, either positively or negatively.

The effect was first described by Henry A. Landsberger in 1950, during his study of productivity at Western Electric's Hawthorne Works factory between 1924 and 1932. Landsberger was interested in determining what effects changes in lighting had on worker productivity and efficiency. 

Read: Golem Effect: Definition, Examples & Classroom Implications

The result was that productivity increased when lights were brighter and decreased when they were dimmer. This seemed to indicate that workers were more motivated when they received extra attention, regardless of the nature of that attention; however, there was no correlation between the amount of light and the workers' level of satisfaction, suggesting that other factors may have been at play.

For example, if you're studying how long it takes workers to complete a task, and you introduce an observer who'll watch them work, the workers may complete their tasks more quickly than they normally would. Not because your experimental condition changed (the presence of an observer), but because the workers are aware they're being observed.

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What is an example of the Hawthorne Effect?

For example: If you were asked to go in front of your class and give a speech, you might be nervous about it but then the day before your presentation, you got really sick. The next day, you feel terrible, but you go to class anyway. Once you're in front of everyone, though, you feel a lot worse than expected. But what happened?

Well, the answer is simple: You actually felt fine the whole time but because you knew your classmates were watching and listening to how sick you sounded, it made your illness seem a lot worse than it actually was.

Read: Barnum Effect in Research: Meaning & Implications

Another Example: let's assume that you're trying to study how much money people spend on movie tickets. You notice that you can't get enough people to sign up for your study and you start losing a lot of people after a few days. It seems like no one wants to be in the study, but it turns out they just don't want to be watched all the time.

People are more likely to participate when they know they won't always be observed and might not even be noticed at all. In other words, when you watch someone closely, they behave differently than when you don't.

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Other Related Effects

  • Demand characteristics: This refers to the cues that participants receive about what behaviors are desired of them by the researcher. These cues can include things like body language and tone of voice. 
  • Novelty effects: This refers to improvements in performance as a result of an experimental procedure; novelty effects can also occur as a result of the special attention given to participants, or due to changes in the workplace. It can mean that something seems more important or noteworthy because it's new. This can cause an increase in performance due to the excitement caused by doing something new.
  • Performance feedback: This refers to the tendency for workers to improve their performance when they are required to keep track of their own productivity. This can make a person feel like they're being judged on their performance and act accordingly.
Read: Pygmalion Effect: Examples and Classroom Applications

Implications of the Hawthorne Effect

The findings of the Hawthorne effect experiments have impacted important developments in fields like human resource management and industrial engineering, but the effect itself has been criticized for its lack of clear definition. As a result of this, researchers concluded that many factors affect performance and behaviors, such as social interactions. 

The implications of this knowledge are significant because researchers can no longer assume that human behavior is consistent regardless of the setting in which it is studied. Instead, the Hawthorne Effect suggests that there are many variables that can affect human behavior.

For instance, it can make it difficult for researchers to get accurate results from their studies. This is because a person's behavior can change just from being observed, which can skew the results and invalidate the findings from even the most careful and well-designed study. This can be a problem if you are trying to use the results of your study to make a decision (like whether or not to roll out a new policy).

Read: Cobra Effect & Perverse Survey Incentives

How Long Does the Hawthorne Effect Last?

The amount of time the Hawthorne effect lasts depends on the individual. Some people may still be susceptible to the effects of being watched several years later while others may not be significantly affected at all.

Researchers have found that it can be very short-lived, lasting only a few minutes or even as short as ten seconds. But there are other studies in which it has lasted six months.  

Researchers suggest that it is easier to overcome when participants feel as at ease as possible. A great way to do this is to place emphasis on the fact that their participation is helping them progress toward their goals (if they have any). 

Also, try to make sure they understand why the study was created and why it matters as that will help them feel like a valuable part of something bigger. Hence an inference is drawn that the Hawthorne effect can only last as long as the scrutiny does; once the observation or intervention ends, the effect disappears and productivity returns to normal.

How to Reduce the Hawthorne Effect

The best way to reduce the effects of the Hawthorne effect is to be aware that it exists in every study you do and then design your study with its effects in mind. Another way to reduce the Hawthorne effect is to use subjects who are unaware they are being studied. 

This is called blind-testing or double-blind testing. In this case, the subjects wouldn't be told that they were being observed at all, or even that an experiment was taking place.

Also, if you increase the number of participants per experiment, using double-blind procedures and other control measures like placebo groups, it will reduce experimenter bias. You can also reduce the Hawthorne effect by making sure your process of collecting data does not cause people to change their behavior.

Conclusion

The Hawthorne effect occurs when a response to treatment is different from what it would have been if subjects knew that the treatment (or study) was about them. In other words, there could be a lot of noise in your data when you don't run experiments in a Hawthorne-free environment.

However, it's not necessarily detrimental to your research or experiments, as long as you recognize what it is. The best way to prevent the Hawthorne Effect from skewing your data is by setting up rigorous controls like we've discussed in this post.ist



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