Does the Hawthorne Effect Apply to Computers?

Does the Hawthorne Effect Apply to Computers?

KEEP YOUR EYES ON THAT PROGRESS BAR!!!A few minutes ago I was helping Tessa with her Time Machine back-up settings. We started the syncing progress and I kept staring at the progress bar. Then she switched to Mail and started writing an email.

I said “Don’t do that. Lets just stare at that progress bar for a while”.

Obviously she didn’t agree with my strategy. Why stare at a progress bar when you can do something useful at the same time?

Well, years of experience with computers have taught me to be careful with progress bars and I would even go so far as to believe the Hawthorne effect applies to computers as much as it does for humans.

In case you don’t know what the Hawthorne effect is here is a definition from Wikipedia:

The Hawthorne effect is a form of reactivity whereby subjects improve an aspect of their behavior being experimentally measured simply in response to the fact that they are being studied, not in response to any particular experimental manipulation.

In other words: People in experiments, knowing they are being watched, work harder than people who are not in experiments. You work harder if you think you are being watched.

After years of experience with computers I’m pretty sure progress bars move faster if you keep an eye on them. Same for loading webpages, saving large files and all other things that involve you having to wait.

The changes that a running task will have pauzed 6 seconds after you go away for a bathroom break is about 100%. Keep watching it and it will continue without complaining.

I remember once starting a rendering job on Friday evening, that involved 600 images which would take all weekend. I watched the first 4 images render and then left. On Monday morning I returned only to find that the whole process stopped at image number 6. On the screen was a simple message: “This image contains complex vectors and rendering it might take a while. Do you want to continue?”

What is your experience? Do you think it helps if you watch the progress bar, keep your mouse moving and say little prayers? Or do you multi-task away and hope for the best?

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