Hawthorne Effect (Being Watched May Not Effect Behaviour At All)

For those that don’t know the Economist is a fantastic newspaper. Not limited to economic news the Economist provides a synopsis across many disciplines of current topic research and findings. Often there is a section on Psychology and as a tribute to the economist in my few short blogs I will cover some key research covered in recent editions of the Economist.

Most I/O Psychologists are familiar with the Hawthorne effect – A 1924 study conducted by America’s National Research Council to examine how shop floor lighting affected workers productivity. The key finding was that rather than lighting having an effect, the act of being experimented upon changed a subject’s behaviour. The data from the illumination experiments had never been rigorously analysed and were believed lost, recently however, the data has been discovered and reanalysed. Contrary to the description in the literature, there was no systematic evidence that levels of productivity in the factory rose, whatever changes were implemented. Rather, the changes in behaviour were due to days of the week with output always highest on a Monday which was also the day when changes were implemented. Much of Psychology is folklore and most data sets are simply never revisited. How many findings in Psychology that are taken as ‘golden rules’ simply are the result of an historical misinterpretation of data?


One thought on “Hawthorne Effect (Being Watched May Not Effect Behaviour At All)

  1. blackwatertown

    It’s often true that the system of measuring or recording behaviour creates a phantom impact on behaviour. I noticed this in the measurement of radio audiences. There was a jump at 4am that later turned out to be simply a reflection of the fact that that was the official start of day time in the 24 hour radio listening diary in which listeners noted down their listening habits.


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