In books on health and wellbeing, I’ve noticed references to the Hawthorne effect. The easiest way for me to define it is to quote from Peter Attia’s book on longevity, Outlive. Dr. Attia was describing his treatment to help patients improve their nutrition by using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). He states, "I’ve found that CGM powerfully activates the Hawthorne effect, the long-observed phenomenon whereby people modify their behavior when they are being watched. Dr. Attia also noted that it appeared that the Hawthorne effect persisted even after the GCM was removed from the patient. They were more aware of their behavior and were more diligent about what they ate.
The original experiments in the 1920s to prove the Hawthorne effect were designed to find ways to increase worker productivity. Dr. Attia and others are finding that the impact of the Hawthorne effect is also useful to promote healthier living.
As I think about this phenomenon, I can attest to its impact, at least in the short term. For my birthday this year, my brother gave me an Oura ring. Like the Apple watch or other wearable devices, the Oura has many sensors that provide a lot of health data, including pulse, blood oxygenation, steps, calories burned, and sleep quality. After a couple of months of wearing the ring and observing the data, I’ve noticed that my behaviors are changing. I’m much more aware of when I go to sleep, my activity levels, and even what I’m eating, even though the ring doesn’t provide any data on calories or eating. My behavior has changed, and as far as I know, I’m not being supervised by anyone but myself.
Like many things in life, we may know what we need to do to achieve our desired goal: sleep more, exercise, eat better, etc. But the challenge is in the execution and our ability to maintain the desired behavior. We’re all looking for triggers and motivations to get us started and keep us on track. Maybe the Hawthorne effect is a way to self-motivate through self-supervision. So, start keeping track of your progress, and maybe it will help you stay on the path toward your goal. I hope you have a very enjoyable and relaxing Labor Day weekend.
Take care and stay safe.
The Postcard by Anne Berest
January, 2003. Together with the usual holiday cards, an anonymous postcard is delivered to the Berest family home. On the front, a photo of the Opéra Garnier in Paris. On the back, the names of Anne Berest’s maternal great-grandparents, Ephraïm and Emma, and their children, Noémie and Jacques—all killed at Auschwitz.
Fifteen years after the postcard is delivered, Anne, the heroine of this novel, is moved to discover who sent it and why. Aided by her chain-smoking mother, family members, friends, associates, a private detective, a graphologist, and many others, she embarks on a journey to discover the fate of the Rabinovitch family: their flight from Russia following the revolution, their journey to Latvia, Palestine, and Paris. What emerges is a moving saga that shatters long-held certainties about Anne’s family, her country, and herself.