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

Author

Listed:
  • Steven D. Levitt
  • John A. List

Abstract

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)

Suggested Citation

  • Steven D. Levitt & John A. List, 2011. "Was There Really a Hawthorne Effect at the Hawthorne Plant? An Analysis of the Original Illumination Experiments," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 3(1), pages 224-238, January.
  • 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

    as
    1. Glenn W. Harrison & John A. List, 2004. "Field Experiments," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 42(4), pages 1009-1055, December.
    2. 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, September.
    3. List John A., 2007. "Field Experiments: A Bridge between Lab and Naturally Occurring Data," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 5(2), pages 1-47, April.
    4. Stephen R G Jones, 1991. "Was There a Hawthorne Effect?," Department of Economics Working Papers 1991-01, McMaster University.
    5. 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.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C90 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - General
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J28 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Safety; Job Satisfaction; Related Public Policy
    • M12 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Business Administration - - - Personnel Management; Executives; Executive Compensation
    • M54 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Labor Management
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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    This item is featured on the following reading lists, Wikipedia, or ReplicationWiki pages:
    1. Was There Really a Hawthorne Effect at the Hawthorne Plant? An Analysis of the Original Illumination Experiments (American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 2011) in ReplicationWiki

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