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Was there Really a Hawthorne Effect at the Hawthorne Plant? An Analysis of the Original Illumination Experiments

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  • Steven D. Levitt
  • John A. List

Abstract

The "Hawthorne effect," a concept familiar to all students of social science, has had a profound influence both on the direction and design of research over the past 75 years. The Hawthorne effect is named after a landmark set of studies conducted at the Hawthorne plant in the 1920s. The first and most influential of these studies is known as the "Illumination Experiment." Both academics and popular writers commonly summarize the results as showing that every change in light, even those that made the room dimmer, had the effect of increasing productivity. The data from the illumination experiments, however, were never formally analyzed and were thought to have been destroyed. Our research has uncovered these data. We find that existing descriptions of supposedly remarkable data patterns prove to be entirely fictional. There are, however, hints of more subtle manifestations of a Hawthorne effect in the original data.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15016.

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Date of creation: May 2009
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15016

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  1. John List & David Reiley, 2008. "Field experiments," Artefactual Field Experiments 00091, The Field Experiments Website.
  2. A. Meltzer & Peter Ordeshook & Thomas Romer, 1982. "Introduction," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 39(1), pages 1-3, January.
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Cited by:
  1. Ouazad, Amine & Page, Lionel, 2013. "Students' perceptions of teacher biases: Experimental economics in schools," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 105(C), pages 116-130.
  2. Benda, Wim G.G. & Engels, Tim C.E., 2011. "The predictive validity of peer review: A selective review of the judgmental forecasting qualities of peers, and implications for innovation in science," International Journal of Forecasting, Elsevier, vol. 27(1), pages 166-182, January.
  3. Bandiera, Oriana & Barankay, Iwan & Rasul, Imran, 2011. "Field Experiments with Firms," IZA Discussion Papers 5723, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Kluver, Jesse & Frazier, Rebecca & Haidt, Jonathan, 2014. "Behavioral ethics for Homo economicus, Homo heuristicus, and Homo duplex," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 123(2), pages 150-158.
  5. Kosfeld, Michael & Neckermann, Susanne, 2010. "Getting More Work for Nothing? Symbolic Awards and Worker Performance," IZA Discussion Papers 5040, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. Erik Hurst & Geng Li & Benjamin Pugsley, 2010. "Are Household Surveys Like Tax Forms: Evidence from Income Underreporting of the Self Employed," NBER Working Papers 16527, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Neckermann, Susanne & Cueni, Reto & Frey, Bruno S., 2012. "Awards at work," ZEW Discussion Papers 12-004, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.
  8. Florian Englmaier & Andreas Roider & Uwe Sunde, 2012. "The Role of Salience in Performance Schemes: Evidence from a Field Experiment," CESifo Working Paper Series 3771, CESifo Group Munich.
  9. Tom Chang & Joshua Graff Zivin & Tal Gross & Matthew Neidell, 2014. "Particulate Pollution and the Productivity of Pear Packers," NBER Working Papers 19944, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Andersson, Ola & Huysentruyt, Marieke & Miettinen, Topi & Stephan, Ute, 2014. "Person-Organization Fit and Incentives: A Causal Test," Working Paper Series 1010, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
  11. Duvendack, Maren, 2010. "Smoke and Mirrors: Evidence of Microfinance Impact from an Evaluation of SEWA Bank in India," MPRA Paper 24511, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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