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

  • Steven D. Levitt
  • John A. List

The "Hawthorne effect" draws its name from a landmark set of studies conducted at the Hawthorne plant in the 1920s. The data from the first and most influential of these studies, the "Illumination Experiment," were never formally analyzed and were thought to have been destroyed. Our research has uncovered these data. Existing descriptions of supposedly remarkable data patterns prove to be entirely fictional. We do find more subtle manifestations of possible Hawthorne effects. We also propose a new means of testing for Hawthorne effects based on excess responsiveness to experimenter- induced variations relative to naturally occurring variation. (JEL C90, J24, J28, M12, M54, N32)

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.

Volume (Year): 3 (2011)
Issue (Month): 1 (January)
Pages: 224-38

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aejapp:v:3:y:2011:i:1:p:224-38
Note: DOI: 10.1257/app.3.1.224
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References listed on IDEAS
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  1. Uri Gneezy & John A List, 2006. "Putting Behavioral Economics to Work: Testing for Gift Exchange in Labor Markets Using Field Experiments," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 74(5), pages 1365-1384, 09.
  2. Anup Malani, 2006. "Identifying Placebo Effects with Data from Clinical Trials," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 114(2), pages 236-256, April.
  3. A. Meltzer & Peter Ordeshook & Thomas Romer, 1982. "Introduction," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 39(1), pages 1-3, January.
  4. John A. List, 2007. "Field Experiments: A Bridge Between Lab and Naturally-Occurring Data," NBER Working Papers 12992, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Glenn W. Harrison & John A. List, 2004. "Field Experiments," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 42(4), pages 1009-1055, December.
  6. Stephen R G Jones, 1991. "Was There a Hawthorne Effect?," Department of Economics Working Papers 1991-01, McMaster University.
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