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Jul 16, 2021
This week’s theme
Words coined after buildings and venues

This week’s words
tammany
Grand Guignol
chamber of horrors
bastille
Hawthorne effect

Hawthorne Works
Hawthorne Works, ca. 1907
Photo: Western Electric / Wikimedia

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Next week's theme
Words that aren't what they seem
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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

Hawthorne effect

PRONUNCIATION:
(HAW-thorn i-FEKT)

MEANING:
noun: An improvement in workers’ performance attributed to the special attention they received when singled out for a study.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Hawthorne Works, a factory complex of the Western Electric Company, where this effect was observed. The complex was named after the original name of the town where it was located. Earliest documented use: 1958.

NOTES:
In the 1920s, researchers studying a group of workers at the Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Company in Cicero, Illinois, observed something peculiar. They found that the productivity increased irrespective of the change in the direction of a variable. For example, the performance improved under brighter lights, but also when the lighting level was reduced. The researchers attributed this phenomenon to the workers’ perception that they were being given some attention. The very realization of being singled out for study motivated them to perform better.
A few cousins of the Hawthorne effect are the placebo effect and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.

USAGE:
“AJC: What do you think of the popularity of shows like ‘The Bachelor’ or ‘Fear Factor’?
Janeane Garofalo: They’re not reality shows. They’re completely imitation-of-life shows. It’s the Hawthorne effect. You are aware of the camera, so your actions aren’t real.”
Rodney Ho; Interview: Garofalo, One Funny Technophobe; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Georgia); Nov 22, 2002.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
We denizens of Earth have a common vice: We take what we're offered, whether we need it or not. You can get into a lot of trouble that way. -Robert Sheckley, science-fiction author (16 Jul 1928-2005)

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