A student of science conducts a research study in order to test a hypothesis or a theory. He/she is guided by a problem and or questions that he/she hopes to answer in order to refute or confirm existing theoretical constructs. A research study is an application of the scientific method and a researcher delves into that with a set of predetermined hypotheses. There are many ways of conducting researches but experiments are the most applicable if the study seeks to establish cause and effect.
The Hawthorne studies started out with the purpose to prove that lighting in the workroom had an effect on worker productivity (Ballantyne, 2000). Although the motivation for conducting the research was utilitarian it however forever changed the concept of management and gave birth to the “Hawthorne Effect”. The insights I gained from digesting the Hawthorne studies were that a research study does not necessarily confirm our research assumptions (Fawcett & Downs, 1999).
Conducting a research is actually like wading into a pool full of disparate objects and sometimes what we find is not what we are looking for. It is important to maintain objectivity and we must not force or lead our discussions and findings towards supporting our hypothesis if we truly want to be scientific and maintain academic integrity. Another thing I learned was that even if we are guided by a research problem that we wish to answer, it is how we measure and manipulate the variables that we want to explore dictates the results that the study yields.
In the Hawthorne studies on lighting and work productivity, although the variable degree of illumination was manipulated to test whether work output increased, the relationship was not established because the researchers was not able to identify beforehand that the presence of the researchers was an extraneous variable (Levine & Parkinson, 1994) hence the concept of the “Hawthorne effect” which referred to the phenomenon where the presence of the researcher corrupts the results of the experiment.
Lastly, the Hawthorne studies demonstrated that even the most rigorous experiments or study has limitations and anyone who wishes to conduct experiments must recognize in the outset what the limitations of his/her study are.