NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

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

Steven D. Levitt, John A. List

NBER Working Paper No. 15016
Issued in May 2009
NBER Program(s):   DAE   IO   LS

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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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w15016

Published: 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. citation courtesy of

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