The “Hawthorne effect” is a myth, but what keeps the story going?
The Hawthorne studies became famous because of the discovery of the “Hawthorne effect”: “a marked increase in production related only to special social position and social treatment”. They mark the beginning of the Human Relations School. This article demonstrates that the Hawthorne research does not pass a methodological quality test. Even if methodological shortcomings were waived, there is no proof of a Hawthorne effect in the original data. The following five myths are debunked: (i) scientific worth, (ii) continuous improvement, (iii) social factors prevailing over physical factors and pay, (iv) wholehearted cooperation, and (v) the neurotic worker. The following five factors are held responsible for the creation and survival of the Hawthorne myth: (i) a story too good to be untrue, (ii) bias and selective accounts by original researchers and “laziness” among later scientists, (iii) social factors do matter, and (iv) a story that fits the cognitive world and interests of psychologists, and (v) management.