The Hawthorne effect, named after a series of studies conducted at the Western Electric Hawthorne Works in the 1920s and 1930s by Elton Mayo and his colleagues, refers to the alteration of behavior due to the awareness of being observed. Mayo observed that workers' productivity increased not solely due to changes in physical conditions but also because they felt valued and recognized as participants in the study. This effect suggests that people's awareness of being observed or studied can result in improved performance or behavior changes, regardless of the specific interventions implemented.
In the context of an online community, the Hawthorne effect can manifest when members are aware of being observed or monitored by community administrators or other participants. This awareness can influence their behavior and participation, leading to more active engagement, increased adherence to community rules, or a greater effort to present themselves in a positive light. Community managers can leverage the Hawthorne effect to encourage desired behaviors by implementing visible measures such as recognition systems, leaderboards, or feedback mechanisms that make members aware of their actions being noticed. However, it is important to strike a balance, as excessive surveillance or the perception of being constantly monitored can lead to feelings of discomfort, self-censorship, or reduced authenticity within the online community.