Listen to a conversation between a student and her sociology professor.
I'm glad you got my message and were able to make it... but where are the other members of your group, Tom and Jane?
They're actually at the library....They have a biology lab assignment that's due later this afternoon...so I'm here to represent the whole group.
But, um, when we got your e-mail message—about being worried about our research project—we were a little confused.
We thought you were excited about our idea for the project....
Well, I think it's a great research topic, but when I looked closely at your plan for accomplishing the research, I realized that your group was probably asking for some trouble.
What do you mean?
I thought that... you know... by monitoring students studying in the library, we could really, uh, get a good understanding of people's study habits and stuff.
The thing is... I think you might have a problem because of the Hawthorne effect.
The Hawthorne effect?
The Hawthorne effect is a technical term for when researchers...uh, more or less forget about a specific variable... the variable of the researchers themselves.
Now, the students in the library...they're going to know that you're observing them, right?
So you have to consider the effect your very presence will have on the people you're observing.
[Confused] But... so you think...
I-I mean, it's not like our observations would be a secret...
The students would know exactly what we'd be doing...
I mean, we'd put up a sign right outside the library...
Yes... but that's just it....
When people know they're being watched, they act differently.
Let me explain how the Hawthorne effect got its name and... well, you'll get the idea.
See, there was a manufacturing facility called the Hawthorne plant.
And researchers conducted some experiments there to see what conditions made workers the most productive.
What sort of conditions?
Well... one thing they experimented with was the lights... Were workers more productive with bright lights or dim lights?
Well, here's the thing: Whatever the researchers did, the workers' productivity increased.
When the lighting was improved, productivity went up. When the lighting was dimmed, productivity went up again.
That doesn't make a lot of sense.
Exactly.... So initially, the experiment was considered a failure.
But then the researchers realized that their own presence had affected the workers' productivity.
The workers knew that the researchers were watching them, and with so much attention on them, the workers felt compelled to work harder.
[As if she is understanding his point now] Oh... I guess that really could be an issue with my group's research.
Yes... But I don't want to send you all back to square one... so how about you set up a meeting with your group members and discuss this.
Then we can meet again and go over your ideas... and I think that we should be able to figure out a way to get around the problem.