What is the Hawthorne Effect in Market Research?

The Hawthorne Effect is a type of bias in market research that you’ve probably come across but may not have known the exact term for labeling it. What is the Hawthorne Effect in market research? Essentially the Hawthorne Effect is where a person participating in research acts or behaves differently than he or she normally would because he or she is aware their behavior is being observed. This is a fairly common criticism of focus groups and survey research particular, especially if the moderator or interviewer is not adept at digging into feedback or further questioning individuals when needed.

What is the Hawthorne Effect in Market Research?


Here are a few simple examples of the Hawthorne Effect in action:

  • A focus group to determine the appeal of a new home air freshener is underway. One participant named Samantha uses air fresheners on a regular basis because she has multiple pets. Fearing judgment from other focus group participants Samantha tells the group she rarely uses air fresheners in her home because her house is always clean. The behavior she explains to the researcher is different than her actual usage behavior at home.

  • A person named John decides to join an online panel company that tracks websites visited and time spent per page and site via a tracking tag. After going through a long registration process to join the panel, John is officially set up to begin his first project as a member. The panel company will be tracking his website behavior over the next week. John is not much of an online surfer. He only goes online when he has to, but as a new paid panel participant he wants to make sure the company is happy with the data he provides. Therefore during the week of testing John surfs the web an extra 2-3 hours a day clicking on items and going to sites he would normally never come across.

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