Reactivity in psychology in research The Hawthorne Effect

The human being is fundamentally a social animal, and this makes him adapt his behavior depending on the social context in which he is. But the social character of our species is very different from that of other forms of life . In this article we will provide you the information about the Reactivity in psychology.

Just as social insects such as ants can live in large colonies, they are not aware of this: they lack the ability to imagine the concept of “other” and “self”. We, on the other hand, are social not only because we live in a collective, but also because we think about others’ states of mind. This, however, has a side effect called psychological reactivity .

What is Reactivity in psychology?

In psychology, reactivity is a concept used to designate the tendency that individuals have to modify their behavior when they feel that someone is watching them . The presence or absence of psychological reactivity makes us act in one way or another, be alone or accompanied. In fact, reactivity may not exist in contexts where we are surrounded by many people, precisely because being in a busy place can make us think that no one will notice us. What matters is the fact that we are aware that someone is watching us, and not so much our physical proximity to other people who might see us.

Thus, it is possible that psychological reactivity appears at times when we are alone , if we believe that there are disembodied entities looking at us, something typical of magical thinking. But it is not necessary that this belief be very firm; The simple act of evoking a person on whom we want to make a good impression can make us, without realizing it, behave in a way that is more similar to what we would do if that person were actually watching us.

It is this phenomenon that causes, for example, that Social Psychology not only studies the influence that others have on the person, but also the influence they have on those imaginary entities that are perceived as real or partially real in the here and now. 

This is why psychological reactivity is a complex phenomenon , which depends as much on how we perceive our environment and cognitive elements as on our imagination. Therefore, it is difficult to control and study, as imagination plays a role in it and cannot be predictably modified from outside the individual.

Furthermore, reactivity always contains a scale of intensity: changing our behavior by remembering a teacher to whom we owe much is not the same as knowing that thousands of people are watching us through a television camera. In the second case, the influence of other people will be much more noticeable and will have an impact on practically all of our gestures.

Psychological reactivity in research

But if the concept of psychological reactivity is useful, it needs to be taken into account in research based on the observation of individuals .

One of the principles of science is the goal of studying natural processes without intervening in them, but psychological reactivity involves strong interference, where behavioral researchers try to learn about the behavior of humans or other animals with developed nervous systems. : only their presence makes individuals behave differently than they would if they were not subject to scientific studies and, therefore, the results obtained are contaminated .

In Psychology, as in any science, it is essential to know how to delimit the type of phenomenon being studied, that is, to isolate the variables to observe what you want to investigate, and psychological reactivity can produce results that are not representative of those . mental or social processes that we are trying to get to know better.

This means that the presence of psychological reactivity in scientific research represents a threat to its internal validity , that is, in view of its ability to find findings related to the object of study to be investigated, and not to anything else. For example, if an investigation seeks to analyze the behavior patterns of a specific ethnic group when making purchasing decisions, the results obtained may actually reflect the way in which members of that group want to be seen by Westerners, without the researchers realizing it.

The Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne effect is a type of psychological reactivity that occurs when participants in an investigation know they are being watched.

It is the type of psychological reactivity typical of behavioral research and has different variants, such as the John Henry effect, which occurs when a group of subjects modify their behavior when they imagine they are part of the control group of an experiment, or the Pygmalion effect , in which subjects Volunteers in an investigation adapt their behavior voluntarily or involuntarily, so that the main hypothesis defended by the researchers is confirmed. This phenomenon is usually preceded by the experimental effect, which occurs when the researchers themselves give clues about what their intentions are and what result they hope to obtain.

How to avoid psychological reactivity in research?

Typically, psychological reactivity is controlled by making people participating in a study know less about it. In social psychology , for example, it is common to hide almost all information about the purpose of studies and sometimes to lie, as long as this does not go against the integrity and dignity of people, and clarify what it is. the experiment after making the observations.

Double-blind studies are among those that are best designed to prevent the onset of psychological reactivity , since in them neither the subjects under study nor those carrying out the “raw” data collection on the above items know what the objective is. of research, thus avoiding the effects of Pygmalion and experimenter.

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