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08-10-2010, 11:00 AM


The Hawthorne effect refers to a phenomenon which is thought to occur when people observed during a research study temporarily change their behavior or performance (this can also be referred to as demand characteristics). Others have broadened the definition to mean that people’s behavior and performance change following any new or increased attention. The Hawthorne studies have had a dramatic effect on management in organizations and understanding the impact of different factors in the workplace.
The purpose of the original experiments was to study the effect of lighting on workers’ productivity. When researchers found that productivity almost always increased after a change in illumination, no matter what the level of illumination was, a second set of experiments began, supervised by Harvard University professors Elton Mayo, Fritz Roethlisberger, and William J. Dickson.
They experimented on other types of changes in the working environment, using a study group of five young women. Again, no matter the change in conditions, the women nearly always produced more. The researchers reported that they had accidentally found a way to increase productivity. The effect was an important milestone in industrial and organizational psychology and in organizational behavior, bringing awareness to the impact of social factors and socialization in the workplace. In this way, management and researchers alike recognize that people are essentially social beings, and their relationships with others are highly significant in everything that they do.
However, some researchers have questioned the validity of the effect because of the experiments’ design and faulty interpretations. Thus, the Hawthorne effect refers not only to the findings relating to productivity, but also to the issue of people's behavior being changed by the experimental study itself, which confounds the factors under investigation.

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