Research Methods

The Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne Effect is a situation where an individual or group of people know they are being observed and so change their behaviour accordingly.
This is why some researchers favour covert observation. It is a term coined by Henry A. Landsberger in the 1950s, and is taken from the Western Electric Hawthorne Works that were located just outside of Chicago, and was the subject of research conducted in the 1920s and 30s.

This 30 minute Radio 4 Mind Changers programme below looks at the Western Electric Hawthorne Works and examines how management were keen to improve productivity. In this broadcast, Claudia Hammond presents a fascinating insight into the different strategies used and the rather surprising results:

Discover More Mind Changers series looking at the development of the science of psychology

A fabulous source of wider reading on this topic, as well as some original photographs which provide a great talking point for students, can be found within the Harvard Business School website:

Discover More What Mayo, orthodoxy of modern management

Questions to consider can include:

  • What is the Hawthorne Effect?

  • What is a time and motion study?

  • What was the Hawthorne illumination study? What is interesting about the findings?

  • What other alterations to the working environment were made? What impact did such alterations have on worker output/productivity?

  • Why are the informal groups in the workplace deemed to be relevant to the research?

  • Is overt research therefore always the best way to conduct research?

Students could then be encouraged to consider the extent to which their behaviour changes when they are being observed (perhaps during lesson observations).

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