The Hawthorne effect and energy awareness

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Sep 17;110(38):15242-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1301687110. Epub 2013 Sep 3.


The feeling of being observed or merely participating in an experiment can affect individuals' behavior. Referred to as the Hawthorne effect, this inconsistently observed phenomenon can both provide insight into individuals' behavior and confound the interpretation of experimental manipulations. Here, we pursue both topics in examining how the Hawthorne effect emerges in a large field experiment focused on residential consumers' electricity use. These consumers received five postcards notifying, and then reminding, them of their participation in a study of household electricity use. We found evidence for a Hawthorne (study participation) effect, seen in a reduction of their electricity use--even though they received no information, instruction, or incentives to change. Responses to a follow-up survey suggested that the effect reflected heightened awareness of energy consumption. Consistent with that interpretation, the treatment effect vanished when the intervention ended.

Keywords: behavioral decision research; electricity consumption; energy conservation; environmental decision making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Conservation of Energy Resources / statistics & numerical data*
  • Economics / statistics & numerical data*
  • Effect Modifier, Epidemiologic*
  • Electricity*
  • Humans