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

19 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2009 Last revised: 14 Jul 2010

See all articles by Steven D. Levitt

Steven D. Levitt

University of Chicago; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); American Bar Foundation

John A. List

University of Chicago - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Date Written: May 2009

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.

Suggested Citation

Levitt, Steven D. and List, John A., Was There Really a Hawthorne Effect at the Hawthorne Plant? An Analysis of the Original Illumination Experiments (May 2009). NBER Working Paper No. w15016. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1412048

Steven D. Levitt (Contact Author)

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John A. List

University of Chicago - Department of Economics ( email )

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Chicago, IL 60637
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

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Germany

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