The Hawthorne effect is a term referring to the tendency of some people to work harder and perform better when they are participants in an experiment. Individuals may change their behavior due to the attention they are receiving from researchers rather than because of any manipulation of independent variables. This effect was first discovered and named by researchers at Harvard University who were studying the relationship between productivity and work environment. Researchers conducted these experiments at the Hawthorne Works plant of Western Electric. The study was originally commissioned to determine if increasing or decreasing the amount of light workers received increased or decreased worker productivity.
The Hawthorne effect is a form of reactivity whereby subjects improve or modify an aspect of their behavior being experimentally measured simply in response to the fact that they know they are being studied, not in response to any particular experimental manipulation.
The researchers found that productivity increased due to attention from the research team and not because of changes to the experimental variable. Hawthorne Works had commissioned a study to see if its workers would become more productive in higher or lower levels of light. The workers' productivity seemed to improve when changes were made and slumped when the study was concluded. It was suggested that the productivity gain occurred due to the impact of the motivational effect on the workers as a result of the interest being shown in them. Although illumination research of workplace lighting formed the basis of the Hawthorne effect, other changes such as maintaining clean work stations, clearing floors of obstacles, and even relocating workstations resulted in increased productivity for short periods. Thus the term is used to identify any type of short-lived increase in productivity.
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