Systematic review of the Hawthorne effect: new concepts are needed to study research participation effects

J Clin Epidemiol. 2014 Mar;67(3):267-77. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2013.08.015. Epub 2013 Nov 22.


Objectives: This study aims to (1) elucidate whether the Hawthorne effect exists, (2) explore under what conditions, and (3) estimate the size of any such effect.

Study design and setting: This systematic review summarizes and evaluates the strength of available evidence on the Hawthorne effect. An inclusive definition of any form of research artifact on behavior using this label, and without cointerventions, was adopted.

Results: Nineteen purposively designed studies were included, providing quantitative data on the size of the effect in eight randomized controlled trials, five quasiexperimental studies, and six observational evaluations of reporting on one's behavior by answering questions or being directly observed and being aware of being studied. Although all but one study was undertaken within health sciences, study methods, contexts, and findings were highly heterogeneous. Most studies reported some evidence of an effect, although significant biases are judged likely because of the complexity of the evaluation object.

Conclusion: Consequences of research participation for behaviors being investigated do exist, although little can be securely known about the conditions under which they operate, their mechanisms of effects, or their magnitudes. New concepts are needed to guide empirical studies.

Keywords: Assessment; Hawthorne effect; Observation; Reactivity; Research methods; Research participation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior
  • Human Experimentation*
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / psychology*
  • Research Design
  • Research Subjects / psychology*