History and definition of Hawthorne Effect
The Hawthorne Effect is a psychological phenomenon that refers to the effect on a person’s or group behavior when they know they are being observed (Last, 2002). The Hawthorne Effect is commonly beneficial, as the person or group tend to improve behaviors or increase productivity when under observation (Last, 2002). The Hawthorne Effect was first recorded at the General Electric manufacturing plant in Hawthorne, Illinois, where a set of studies was being conducted (Last, 2002).These studies were conducted during the 1920’s, seeking to answer if better lighting enhanced workers productivity (List & Levitt, 2011). As a result, they observed that regardless of the conditions, rest periods or work days the women working there worked harder and more efficiently while the research was conducted, concluding with the emergence of the concept that is now known as The Hawthorne Effect (List & Levitt 2011). Example of Hawthorne Effect
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Why is it important for researchers to know about this?
Many types of research use human research subjects, and the Hawthorne Effect is unavoidable bias that the researcher must try to take into account when they analyze the results. Subjects are always liable to modify behavior when they are aware they are part of an experiment, and this is extremely difficult to quantify. The researcher needs to know about the effect; where it can be factored into the design. If a group is isolated from their work colleagues, for the purpose of research, the individual attention and the normal human instinct to feel “chosen”, will skew the results.
Researchers argue that the Hawthorne Effect does not exist or is, at best, the placebo effect under another name. Others postulate that it is the demand effect, where subjects subconsciously change their behavior to fit the expected results of an experiment.
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