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Mental Models - The Hawthorne Effect 👀
The Hawthorne Effect (also known as The Observer Effect) is a simple, yet significant concept that comes from the discipline of psychology. It’s one that might seem obvious, but it wasn’t at all obvious at the time when researchers discovered it! 👀
What is The Hawthorne Effect?
First let me tell you the interesting story of how researchers first discovered the effect.
A guy called Henry Landsberger was analyzing some studies conducted in the 1920's/30's at a factory called Hawthorne Works. The researchers were trying to find out how lighting affected employee productivity. They noted the productivity baseline, then they increased the lighting in the factory, then measured productivity again. Productivity had gone up. However, the story doesn't stop there. After the lighting was decreased back to normal, the productivity gains remained!
What was going on?
It turned out that the employees were not responding to the lighting changes, but were instead responding to the increased attention - to being observed!
Landsberger coined the term The Hawthorne Effect in 1958 to describe the phenomenon where:
Individuals modify an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed.
What this means for research and management is contentious, but it's safe to say that the implications are big - it's worth remembering this concept from both the perspective of the observer and the observed.
I do think management guru Peter Drucker might have been alluding to the The Hawthorne Effect when he said:
What gets measured, gets managed.
Want to go deeper?
👩🔬 Even being observed by a picture of a pair of eyes can change people's behavior. Researchers found out that people paid significantly more (3x) to the honesty box for their drinks when the picture of eyes was displayed, rather than a control image of flowers.
🎦 We've learnt about The Hawthorne Effect in the discipline of psychology, but what about in physics? How might observation impact things at a lower level? If you want to take this to mind-bending level - check out the double-slit experiment!
Reply to this email if you have any thoughts you want to share, or tweet me @juliaclavien.
Wishing you a week of advantageous observation dear Mental Modelers! 🙇