Hawthorne effect

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Hawthorne effect

a term derived from the Hawthorne investigations (see HUMAN RELATIONS SCHOOL), in which the conduct of experiments produced changes in the behaviour of subjects because, firstly, they knew they were being observed, and, secondly, investigators developed friendly relationships with them. In the first instance, the Hawthorne effect made sense of the otherwise puzzling experimental finding of an inverse relationship between illumination (environmental change) and employee output. In the second instance, the attempt to assess the impact of a range of variables on the performance of employees, who were removed from their normal work situation, was rendered problematic, partly because over time investigators adopted a friendly supervisory relationship with the subjects. The difficulty in disentangling the effects of poorly controlled changes on the observed improvement in employee output was controversially resolved in favour of stressing the significance of employee preference for friendly supervision of cohesive and informal work groups. Indeed, this finding became the main platform in the prescriptions which human relations theorists proposed for effective management.

In both of the cases described above, the Hawthorne effect was associated with the way in which subjects interpreted and responded to poorly controlled experimental changes. As the researchers became aware of the need to consider the ways in which employees interpreted their work situation, other techniques of investigation, such as interviews and observation of natural settings, were adopted. Nevertheless, all of the phases in the research programme have been subjected to criticism, as has the interpretation of the findings (M. Rose, 1988). See also UNANTICIPATED CONSEQUENCES OF SOCIAL ACTION.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
References in periodicals archive ?
Manufacturing knowledge: A history of the Hawthorne experiments. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Despite the variety of changes, says SIOP's Tippins, "It was the attention that the people were given that caused their productivity to increase." The Hawthorne experiments revealed that:
Finally, she makes no mention of the Hawthorne experiments in which workers responded positively even to worsening conditions, suggesting that the psychology of welfare capitalism demands some attention, especially as it moves into strategies of worker counseling.
He was the first to integrate some of the empirical breakthroughs of interwar social science, particularly studies in industrial psychology such as the Hawthorne experiments, into a broader system of management theory.
Richard Gillespie's title, Manufacturing Knowledge: A History of the Hawthorne Experiments, is too modest.