• heather&dr.ron

The Hawthorne Exercise

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

The Hawthorne effect was termed as a result of research conducted at the Hawthorne Western Electric plant where researchers wanted to study the effects of lighting on the plant workers' productivity. However, what happened was that because the workers knew that they were being watched, they changed their behavior - not necessarily as a result of any lighting changes. This seems to ring true in most situations, that if you know you are being watched, you will change your behavior.

Ron has taken this research and created what he calls The Hawthorne Exercise, which we discussed in a recent video. Here we talked about how you can use this exercise in your relationship.

The way that Ron puts this into practice with his clients, and the same way you can put this into practice in your relationship is with this worksheet.

Here you see five goals which are behaviors that we want the individual to DO; the opposite of the behaviors that we want them to stop (the bad or negative behaviors). The five goals all need to be centered around ONE PRIMARY issue. We need to keep in mind that we are focusing on ONE PRIMARY issue that needs to be changed; the goals are... It is also helpful to have three people involved in this process - the person who is having the issue (being graded), the person that the issue is aimed towards (the grader), and a neutral third party (this could be a therapist, or a friend or family member). The neutral third party is not meant to be involved directly in the issue as a witness, but there to be a sounding board; someone to check in with (an accountability partner).

Let's walk through an example of how this might play out. Here is our cast of characters: Bob has an issue of becoming very insulting and rude anytime he gets in an argument with his wife Karen. Bob recognizes that this is an issue and wants to try to fix it. Bob has been seeing his therapist, Ron, and Ron discusses the Hawthorne Exercise with him. Together they come up with five goals so that the next time Bob and Karen get in an argument, Bob can focus on those goals and Karen can grade Bob on how well he handled each of those goals (she will get a copy of the grading sheet). Ron then calls Karen and discusses the Hawthorne exercise with her, Bob's goals, and how she will need to grade him. Ron (as the neutral third party) will be available to hear from both Bob and Karen on how things went with the exercise.

Ron, the therapist, will tell Bob that he is going to ask Karen to deliberately try to trigger him with an argument at least three times over the next week. This keeps Bob on guard and ready to behave differently during the argument. Ron may or may not ask Karen to do this, but likely an argument will ensue regardless.

It is important to note that this exercise is not something that will be done once and then everything is magically better. This exercise will need to be practiced many, many times and likely the goals will need to be changed up a bit over time. This is a training process and the change may only occur during the training process unless, or until they see moral value in making the change in behavior. "Bob" must always know what the goals are. As the goals are modified over time, the goals should come more from Bob and less from the therapist or the grader - this provides much more buy-in from Bob and a greater chance of change in the behavior.


- 5 Positive and Actionable Goals

- Centered around One Key Behavior

- Each goal is graded on a rating scale of 1-5 (1 lowest; 5 highest)

- Neutral third-party/accountability partner

- Exercise will be repeated many times over

- Goals may change over time

- Goals should always be known by all parties

Hopefully, this is a tool you find effective if you or your spouse has some negative behavior that needs to be changed. If you dive into this and find you have questions, please don't hesitate to reach out. If you end up using this exercise and find success, leave us a comment as well.

- Heather

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