Which Was the First Social Psychology Experiment?


Martha Robinson

Social psychology is the scientific study of how individuals’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. It is a field that seeks to understand how people interact and behave within social groups.

What Was the First Social Psychology Experiment?

When discussing the origins of social psychology, one experiment often comes to mind as a pivotal moment in its development. This experiment is known as the “Hawthorne Effect,” which was conducted at Western Electric’s Hawthorne Works in Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Hawthorne Works was a factory where researchers sought to understand how changes in lighting conditions affected workers’ productivity. However, during the course of this experiment, something unexpected occurred – regardless of whether lighting conditions were improved or worsened, workers’ productivity increased.

This unexpected finding led researchers to realize that it wasn’t solely the lighting conditions that impacted productivity; rather, it was the mere fact that they were being observed and studied. This realization gave birth to what we now know as the Hawthorne Effect – the phenomenon where individuals alter their behavior due to being aware of being observed.

The Significance of the Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne Effect had far-reaching implications for social psychology. It highlighted the importance of considering social factors when studying human behavior. The experiment demonstrated that people’s behavior can be influenced not only by external factors but also by their awareness of being part of an experiment or study.

This groundbreaking insight paved the way for future research in social psychology and shaped our understanding of how individuals respond to various social situations and contexts.

Limitations and Criticisms

While the Hawthorne Effect was a crucial milestone in social psychology, it has faced criticism over time. Some argue that the effect may have been exaggerated or misinterpreted, and that other factors, such as changes in working conditions or group dynamics, could have contributed to the observed increase in productivity.

Despite these criticisms, the Hawthorne Effect remains an essential experiment in the history of social psychology. It highlighted the need to consider social influences on individual behavior and paved the way for further research in this field.


The Hawthorne Effect stands as one of the earliest and most influential social psychology experiments. It demonstrated that individuals’ behavior can be influenced by their awareness of being observed and studied. This groundbreaking insight shaped our understanding of how social factors impact human behavior.

As social psychology continues to evolve, it is essential to acknowledge and build upon the foundational research conducted by pioneers like those involved in the Hawthorne Effect. By understanding how external and internal factors influence individuals within social contexts, we can gain valuable insights into human behavior.