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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Oh! They're looking!

                     Let us consider a small situation in an examination hall. There was a student who has sitting there, writing his exam ever so slowly. He had no intentions of picking up his speed or making his presentation neat, because he had made up his mind that marks won’t do any difference to the way he felt about himself. Now, his faculty for the concerned subject walks into the room ever so slowly. She glances in various directions and finally has her eye set on this student and walks towards him. All of a sudden, things have changed for this student, and he starts writing down the answers furiously. He even makes an attempt to make his answers neat and just as she walks near, he borrows a scale from a nearby table and draws the margin for his subsequent sheets.

While this is a commonplace activity for many students out there, the organization management principle involved here is what is famously known as the ‘Hawthorne effect’. Hawthorne effect, commonly known as the observer effect, is a form of reactivity where subjects improve or modify aspects of their behavior, which is being experimentally measured, in response to the fact that they are being studied.


Here we will understand the history behind this effect and will reason the coinage of this term. It was coined in the year 1950 by Henry A. Landsberger when analyzing old experiments from 1924-32 at the Hawthorne Works at Chicago. It 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.
Later research into the Hawthorne effect has suggested that the original results may have been overstated. In 2009, researchers at the University of Chicago reanalyzed the original data and found that other factors also played a role in productivity and that the effect originally described was weak at best.

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