What is 'Hawthorne Effect'

The Hawthorne Effect is the inclination of people who are the subjects of an experimental study to change or improve the behavior being evaluated only because it is being studied, and not because of changes in the experiment parameters or stimulus.

BREAKING DOWN 'Hawthorne Effect'

The Hawthorne Effect refers to the fact that people will modify their behavior simply because they are being observed. The effect gets its name from one of the most famous industrial history experiments that took place at Western Electric’s factory in the Hawthorne suburb of Chicago in the late 1920s and early 1930s. However, subsequent analysis on the effect by University of Chicago economists in 2009 revealed that the original results were likely overstated.

The Hawthorne experiments were originally designed by the National Research Council to study the effect of shop-floor lighting on worker productivity at a telephone parts factory in Hawthorne. However, the researchers were perplexed to find that productivity improved, not just when the lighting was improved, but also when the lighting was diminished. Productivity improved whenever changes were made in other variables such as working hours and rest breaks. The researchers concluded that the workers’ productivity was not being affected by the changes in working conditions, but rather by the fact that someone was concerned enough about their working conditions to conduct an experiment on it.

The Hawthorne Effect and Modern Research

For many types of research that utilizes human subjects, the Hawthorne effect is an unavoidable bias that researchers must try to take into account when analyzing results. How a subject's awareness of a study might modify their behavior is extremely difficult to quantify. All a researcher can really do is attempt to factor the effect into the research design, which is a tough proposition with no universally agreed-upon methodology. The presence of the Hawthorne Effect renders most social research into a matter that requires experience and human judgment to assess.

As an example of the Hawthorne Effect in action, consider a 1978 study to establish whether cerebellar neurostimulators could mitigate the motor dysfunction of young adults with cerebral palsy, results showed that the Hawthorne Effect adversely affected the findings. Objective testing showed that all of patients reported that their motor functions improved and that they were happy with the treatment.

Quantitative methods, however, showed that there was little improvement, and researchers invoked the Hawthorne Effect as the main factor skewing the results. They believed that the extra attention given to the patients, by the doctors, nurses and therapists, was the reason for the reported improvements in the initial study.

RELATED TERMS
  1. Event Study

    An event study is an empirical analysis done on a security that ...
  2. Monday Effect

    Monday effect is a theory that states that returns on the stock ...
  3. Michigan Leadership Studies

    An exploration into leadership styles, the Michigan Leadership ...
  4. September Effect

    The September effect refers to historically weak stock market ...
  5. Behavioral Finance

    Behavioral finance is a field of finance that proposes psychology-based ...
  6. Market Research

    Market research is the use of surveys, product testing and focus ...
Related Articles
  1. Investing

    Boring Company's Tunnel 'Almost Done': Musk

    The first portion of the project is a 2.7-mile tunnel under Los Angeles
  2. Personal Finance

    The Key To CFP Exam Success

    Up to 60 of the questions on CFP exam are case studies. Are you up for the challenge?
  3. Investing

    SpaceX HQ Houses Elon Musk's Very Private School

    An unconventional educational experiment attracts high interest for just a dozen or so spots.
  4. Small Business

    7 Ways Your Emotions Skew Your Business Decisions

    Important decisions such as making a key investment, increasing production or expanding into new lines are all clouded by human emotion. Can you stay cool under pressure?
  5. Insights

    Don't Believe All the Statistics You Read About Finance

    Many of the so-called scientific studies that we read and hear about in the media are nothing but hype and best left ignored.
  6. Investing

    What Is The Impact Of Research On Stock Prices?

    Find out how stock prices are impacted by the issuance of research reports. Determine the benefits of research to investors and the larger market.
  7. Small Business

    The Value Of A "Useless" Degree

    Think a humanities degree will leave you penniless? Think again.
  8. Insights

    Understanding the Substitution Effect

    The substitution effect is an economic term used to describe consumer behavior relative to price or income changes.
  9. Taxes

    How Do Apple's Taxes Compare to Other Tech Giants? (AAPL)

    Analyze Apple's recent tax history to determine how geographic sales mix, foreign profit reinvestment and tax credits are influencing tax rates versus peers.
  10. Trading

    Understanding Investor Behavior

    Discover how some human tendencies can play out in the market, posing the question: are we really rational?
RELATED FAQS
  1. How do you calculate the income effect distinctly from the price effect?

    Learn more about how the income and substitution effects operate in economics and how to separate either of these while calculating ... Read Answer >>
  2. How can a change in fiscal policy have a multiplier effect on the economy?

    Learn about how changes in fiscal policy have a multiplier effect on the economy. The goal of expansionary fiscal policy ... Read Answer >>
  3. How does economics study human action and behavior?

    Find out why economics can be considered a deductive social science, like sociology, and how human action and behavior informs ... Read Answer >>
Trading Center