Sociology Index


Hawthorne effect is an increase in worker productivity observed at the Chicago Hawthorne plant of General Electric in 1920's and 1930's attributed to improvements in worker-management communication and increased involvement of workers with each other.

Hawthorne effect refers to a series of experiments on managing factory workers carried out in the Hawthorne works of the Western Electric Company in Chicago.

The term Hawthorne effect is now used more generally to refer to improvement of worker productivity that does not result from any objective change in working conditions or work organization, but seems to arise from workers having more positive psychological feelings about the workplace.

What Happened at Hawthorne? - New evidence suggests the Hawthorne effect resulted from operant reinforcement contingencies - H. M. Parsons, Riverside Research Institute, New York.
The Hawthorne effect in experimental research is the unwanted effect of the experimental operations themselves. Following the Hawthorne studies, various explanations have been proposed to account for rising rates of production. Although several approaches may be taken to explain the effects of response-consequence contingencies, I have favored operant conditioning because it seems to account for progressive increases in response rate - the Hawthorne phenomenon. Generalizing from the particular situation at Hawthorne, I would define the Hawthorne effect as the confounding that occurs if experimenters fail to realize how the consequences of subjects' performance affect what subjects do. But the Hawthorne effect need not be viewed solely as a problem in conducting experiments.

What Caused the Hawthorne Effect? - A Scientific Detective Story 
H. M Institute for Behavioral Research, Inc. - Administration & Society, Vol. 10, No. 3, 259-283 (1978)
The studies that produced the Hawthorne effect have been the biggest Rorschach blot in behavioral and social science. Commentators read into them their own identifications of the confounding variable that caused a progressive rise in worker's production rates. But the clues to the real perpetrator of the Hawthorne effect were there all the time. Scientific detective work has yielded hard evidence showing that the workers were systematically receiving information feedback, i.e., knowledge of results about their output rates. The same research on research brought into greater prominence an accomplice, a method of piecework payment whereby the workers earned more when they worked faster. Together, information feedback and differential reward could account for the gradually increasing productivity, especially in an explanatory framework of response shaping in operant conditioning. After the solution to the Hawthorne effect mystery was published, it was learned that the perpetrator had been identified years earlier by an eminent psychologist who had worked briefly in the Hawthorne studies, but the word never got around.

The Hawthorne Misunderstanding (and How to Get the Hawthorne Effect in Action Research) - GARY D. GOTTFREDSON - Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Vol. 33, No. 1 (1996)
The Hawthorne relay-assembly research has been misinterpreted as showing that interest in employees' well-being is sufficient to stimulate increased performance. In the original studies of this phenomenon, the assemblers of relays received considerable attention, but they also wanted to improve their performance and they were given feedback on how they performed. As a result, they learned to produce more relays. The "Hawthorne misunderstanding" is common in criminology, criminal justice, and other fields because authors have failed to recognize this explanation of improved work output. Producing real Hawthorne effects, that is, improvements in the performance of people, is important in action research, and such improvements are often the aims of scientists who pursue this form of research. To produce Hawthorne effects, foster the acceptance of performance goals or standards, provide feedback on performance, and remove obstacles to improved performance.

Was There a Hawthorne Effect? - Stephen R G Jones
Abstract: The "Hawthorne Effect" has been the most enduring legacy of the celebrated studies of workplace behaviour conducted in the 1920's and the 1930's at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric company. Paradoxically, it is not clear that this effect constituted more than an incidental and intermediate finding for the original researchers. This paper examines the empirical evidence for Hawthorne effects using the original data from the Hawthorne Relay Assembly Test Room, where a group of workers was closely studied, with a variety of experimental and other changes in th work environment, over a period of more than 5 years. Using both narrow and broad definitions of an experimental change and allowing for other factors and for potential interdependance of the owrkers' output levels, I assess whether such experimental changes had a common effect that could be regarded as a pure result of the experimentation. The main conclusion is that there is only a slender evidence of a Hawthorne effect in the Hawthorne Relay Assembly Test Room.

Internal quality assurance or Hawthorne effect?
Vahl CF, Osswald BR, Meinzer P, de Simone R, Thomas G, Hagl S. 
Klinik fur Herzchirurgie, Universitat Heidelberg.
The tendency of study participation per se to affect outcome is described by the term Hawthorne effect. This process defines the first step for internal quality assurance. However, whenever an attempt is made to describe the effects of quality assurance in more detail specific mathematical tools are required, including a database system that allows the calculation of clinical profiles, problem profiles, time-related variance of variables, univariate analysis and multivariate analysis statistics, calculation of scores and application of the hazard function.

The Hawthorne effect in the measurement of adolescent smoking
M Murray, AV Swan, S Kiryluk and GC Clarke - Division of Community Medicine, St Thomas's Hospital Medical School, London. 
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Vol 42, 304-306
It is possible that the process of repeatedly measuring the smoking behavior of adolescents may very well affect that behaviour. This paper reports a test for the extent of such a "Hawthorne" effect in a longitudinal survey of smoking by English adolescents. The self- reported smoking behaviour of 15-16 year olds who attended schools which had participated in the study for five years was compared with that of 15-16 year olds who attended other schools. The prevalence of smoking was lower in those schools which had been surveyed for five years. A number of possible explanations for this finding are discussed. It is concluded that such a Hawthorne effect is unlikely to bias analyses relying on comparisons within the data set.

Prospective Research in Health Service Settings: Health Psychology, Science and the Hawthorne Effect 
Ian O’ Sullivan, Sheina Orbell, Tim Rakow, Ron Parker, University of Essex & Hospital of St Cross - Journal of Health Psychology, Vol. 9, No. 3, (2004)
Health service providers sometimes express concern about the impact of prospective survey research upon patient behaviour. To date, there is little available evidence from which to estimate the likelihood of any ‘Hawthorne’ effect on patient behaviour in health service settings.

Placebos, back belts, and Hawthorne effect
Metzgar, C.R., Vulcan Mater. Co., Winston-Salem, NC;
Abstract: The use of soft back belts in industry and retailing to help prevent and thus control the costs of back injuries has accelerated over the past three years. The purpose of this paper is to suggest that the claimed positive results from using back belts, if any, can be explained by factors other than the physical effects of the belt. It is suggested that the placebo effect and/or the Hawthorne effect are a more likely explanation for the claimed positive results than any physical benefits of belt use.

Intentional use of the Hawthorne effect to improve oral hygiene compliance in orthodontic patients - PH Feil, JS Grauer, CC Gadbury-Amyot, K Kula, and MD McCunniff 
Journal of Dental Education, Vol 66, Issue 10, American Dental Education Association 
The purpose of this study was to evaluate whether the home care of noncompliant adolescent orthodontic patients with "poor" oral hygiene could be improved through the use of a deception strategy designed to intentionally induce the Hawthorne effect. This effect is often cited as being responsible for oral health improvements of control groups that receive placebo treatments. It is thought that participating in and fulfilling the requirements of a study alters subjects' behavior, thereby contributing to the improvement.

Programmed Student Achievement: A Hawthorne Effect? - Haddad, Nabil F.
Source: Research in Higher Education, 3, 4, 315-22, Dec 75 
Abstract: Three groups of college students were given instructions using different testing techniques to determine whether the superior performance obtained with Programed Student Achievement (PA) was due to a Hawthorne Effect. Results seem to preclude any attempt to interpret the effectiveness of PA on that basis.

Recontextualizing the Hawthorne Effect - Wigblad, Rune 
Scandinavian Journal of Management 
Abstract: In this paper we explore the thesis that a threat to the vital interest of an entity, be it an individual or a group, will lead to forms of increased productivity. We argue for the hypothesis: Because threat was prevalent in the Hawthorne experiments, a closedown perspective is relevant for recontextualizing the Hawthorne Effect. We are able to provide refined and extended findings which are relevant to the productivity development under extreme conditions. Adding these findings to earlier knowledge, deepen our understanding of the Hawthorne experiments.

G. Adair (1984) "The Hawthorne effect: A reconsideration of the methodological artifact" J. Appl. Psych. vol.69 (2), 334-345 [Reviews references to Hawthorne in the psychology methodology literature.]

Brooks, M. (2008) "Running on empty" New Scientist vol.?? issue 2670 of New Scientist magazine, 20 August 2008, page 36-39

Carey, A. (1967) "The Hawthorne Studies: A radical criticism" American Sociological Review vol.32 pp.403�416

Clark,R.E. & Sugrue,B.M. (1991) "Research on instructional media, 1978-1988" in G.J.Anglin (ed.) Instructional technology: past, present, and future ch.30 pp.327-343 (Libraries unlimited: Englewood, Colorado).

Franke,R.H. & Kaul,J.D. (1978) "The Hawthorne experiments: First statistical interpretation" American sociological review vol.43 pp.623-643

Gillespie, Richard, (1991) Manufacturing knowledge : a history of the Hawthorne experiments (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press) [Has an extensive bibliography of primary sources on Hawthorne.]

Jastrow (1900) Fact and fable in psychology (Boston: Houghton Mifflin) [I haven't seen this book myself.]

Stephen R. G. Jones, (1992) "Was There a Hawthorne Effect?" The American Journal of Sociology vol.98 no.3 (Nov., 1992), pp. 451-468, from the abstract "the main conclusion is that these data show slender to no evidence of the Hawthorne Effect"

Landsberger, Henry A. (1958) Hawthorne Revisited (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University )

Lovett,R. "Running on empty" New Scientist 20 March 2004 vol.181 no.2439 pp.42-45

Marsh, H.W. (1987) "Student's evaluations of university teaching: research findings, methodological issues, and directions for future research" Int. journal of educational research vol.11 no.3 pp.253-388.

Mayo, E. (1933) The human problems of an industrial civilization (New York: MacMillan)

Olson,R., Verley,J., Santos,L. & salas,C. (1994) "What we teach students about the Hawthorne studies: A review of content within a sample of introductory I-O and OB textbooks" Orne,M.T. (1973) "Communication by the total experimental situation: Why is it important, how it is evaluated, and its significance for the ecological validity of findings" in P.Pliner, L.Krames & T.Alloway (eds.) Communication and affect pp.157-191 (New York: Academic Press).

Parsons,H.M. (1974) "What happened at Hawthorne?" Science vol.183, pp.922-932 [A very detailed description, in a more accessible source, of some of the experiments; used to argue that the effect was due to feedback-promoted learning.]

Rick,B. (2006) "Persistence of a Flawed Theory" Web Document, visited 22 Dec 2006.

Roethlisberger,F.J. & Dickson,W.J. (1939) Management and the Worker (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press).
[This is a large book (more than 600 pages) of details of the studies.]

Roethlisberger, F.J. (1941) Management and morale (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press)

Rosenthal,R. (1966) Experimenter effects in behavioral research (New York: Appleton).

Rosenthal,R. & Jacobson,L. (1968, 1992) Pygmalion in the classroom: Teacher expectation and pupils' intellectual development (Irvington publishers: New York)

Rhem,J. (1999) "Pygmalion in the classroom" in The national teaching and learning forum vol.8 no.2 pp.1-4

Sch�n, D.A. (1983) The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action (Temple Smith: London) (Basic books?)

Shayer,M. (1992) "Problems and issues in intervention studies" in Demetriou,A., Shayer,M. & Efklides,A. (eds.) Neo-Piagetian theories of cognitive development: implications and applications for education ch. 6 pp.107-121 (London : Routledge)

Wall,P.D. (1999) Pain: the science of suffering (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Zdep,S.M. & Irvine,S.H. (1970) "A reverse Hawthorne effect in educational evaluation" Journal of School Psychology vol.8 pp.89-95.