The Hawthorne Effect in Stanford County Jail

When we take a look at the problems with the Stanford Prison Experiment, it is apparent that there is some bias. One of which is called, “The Hawthorne Effect.” The Hawthorne effect is a psychological phenomenon in which participants in behavioral studies change their behavior or performance in response to being observed by the individual conducting the study. The name of this came from Henry Landsberg when the Hawthorne Works had commissioned a study to see if their workers would become more productive at higher or lower levels of light. The workers’ productivity seemed to improve when changes were made, and slumped when the study ended. It was suggested that the productivity gain occurred as a result of the motivational effect on the workers of the interest being shown in them. As humans, we do not behave the same way when we know someone is watching us compared to when we are alone.

In the case of this experiment, this was one of the phenomena that contributed to the way the guards behaved for their 6 days in prison. One guard in particular, Dave Eshelman, also known as, “John Wayne,” was a huge player in the way that the researcher, Phillip Zimbardo, analyzed the Hawthorne effect in his experiment. John Wayne put on a role, purposely acting differently to enhance the results that he thought was expected by the researcher. In turn, it not only affected the experiment as a whole but the way he acted affected the way the other guards acted as well. Even knowing they were being observed, guards and prisoners acted differently than normal. Some guards felt the need to show their dominance even when it was not necessary. This created the environment in which the prisoners suffered the most. When the guards expressed their dominance when it is unnecessary, it made the prisoner more susceptible to psychological abuse that affected their behavior. Most prisoners came in with confidence and were more relaxed, however, at the end of the experiment, they were more passive, anxious, and experienced feelings of hopelessness. If in fact, the guards did not know they were being watched, it could change the results of this experiment.

Source: Martyn Shuttleworth (Oct 10, 2009). Hawthorne Effect. Retrieved Nov 29, 2017 from


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