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

Steven Levitt and John List

No 15016, NBER Working Papers from National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc

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.

JEL-codes: A1 C91 C92 C93 D03 L22 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2009-05
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-exp, nep-his and nep-hpe
Note: DAE IO LS
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Published as 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 224-38, January.

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