How to get the most out of yourself with the Hawthorne Effect

As human, we place a lot of importance on what other people think of us. It makes sense. We want people to like us. We want people to respect us. We want people to think more highly of us.

It comes from our evolutionary past. If we’re liked, we’re more likely to find a mate and pass on our genes. So ‘being liked’ is actually a survival advantage.

But of course, like many results of our evolutionary past (like focussing on the one negative of a situation instead of the 99 positives), this drive to be what other people want us to be can become our enemy. We can let it shape our actions and behaviours to a point where they become disingenuous and inauthentic.

But maybe there’s a way to harness this. Maybe there’s a way to use our behaviours when other people are watching to our advantage.

This phenomenon has a name, the ‘Hawthorne Effect’ (also called the ‘Observer Effect’). The Hawthorne Effect tells us that we will modify our behaviours when we’re being watched.

The original research into this change in behaviour when being watched came about by accident. In the late 1950s, researchers were examining the effect of different levels of lighting in a factory (the ‘Hawthorne Works’) on worker productivity. Changing the lighting seemed to increase productivity, but when the study ended, and the new ‘optimal’ light levels were implemented, productivity went back to normal. Turns out, it wasn’t the lighting that was making a difference, but the fact that the researchers were watching the workers. The Observer Effect.

So how can the Hawthorne Effect help us?

By understanding that we may be better versions of ourselves when under observation, we should put ourselves in situations where we’re observed. Over time, this will help us develop habits of excellence and virtuosity which may gradually become the new norm. These new, improved behaviour patterns may last long after the observation has stopped.

Regardless of the field or discipline you wish to improve in, the Hawthorne Effect can be powerful.

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For once, turn your inbuilt drive to please others to your own advantage. Use the Hawthorne Effect to help you get the best out of yourself with the help of a supportive observer.

Dan Williams

Dan Williams


Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion and leads a team of Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists and Coaches. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology.

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