Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Hawthorne Effect

How does the Hawthorne effect affect our daily lives? 

First of all, many may not have heard of this phenomenon, but I guarantee that most of us have been under the influence of it. The Hawthorne effect is a type of reactivity in which people modify an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed. Simply put, you act differently when you think that people might be watching you. 

Think back to your college days, when practice room availability was scarce. And when one did become available, there was usually a burning musician in the room to your right, another one to the left, and probably a few in the practice rooms across the hall. I found that under these conditions, practicing was no longer about learning new ideas and perfecting your old ones, it became a type of performance. 

And this is classic Hawthorne effect. 

I usually had a love-hate relationship with the communal aspect of college practice conditions. On the one hand, I enjoyed letting others hear some of the cool things I was working on—as I did theirs. The drawback was me feeling compelled to perform rather than just practice. I’m talking about the willingness to sound horrible as you take on the new and under-explored material. And this speaks to the aspect of the Hawthorne effect in which one's behavior becomes modified when being observed. 

Here are some ways it affected me:
  • I never wanted to play things I didn’t know.
  • I always wanted play things that were flashy.
  • And I was too paranoid that others were listening to me.

But I must say, the Hawthorne effect doesn’t always have to always affect you negatively.  Sometimes knowing that you might be observed helps you to become more focused. Instead of showing off your flashy licks, now you’re showing how disciplined you are—how you can methodically tackle a new idea. 

Even outside of musical things, the Hawthorne effect is the reason I go to Starbucks to do administrative tasks on my computer. Just from feeling self-conscious about indulging in time wasters like YouTube and Facebook, I tend to be more focused, and I use my time more wisely. 

So is being watched while we perform tasks a good or bad thing? I guess it all depends on the kind of show you want to put on. 


  1. I saw this a while back when I went to try out some mouthpieces.

    There were two rooms side by side and two guys trying out MPs: me the old fart, and a young stud in the other one.

    I played a bunch of stuff that doesn't sound like anything but which allows me to assess a mouthpiece. Intervals across troublesome breaks; pianissimo playing in the low register; long held notes with crescendo/decrescendo; simple melodies played for just a few seconds on each piece and then switching, etc.

    The young stud next door played all his hottest licks for twenty minutes or so.

    Who did a better job of impressing the people outside the test room door, and who did a better job of picking a mouthpiece?

  2. I've been there more times than I want to remember. This is probably one of the biggest negatives of playing in these types of public places. Thanks for sharing your story.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Search This Blog

Blog Archive