Thursday, January 10, 2013

Credit the Hawthorne Effect For Your PR

There is a phenomenon that occurs during clinical trials known as the Hawthorne effect. This phenomenon explains the process that occurs when people are being watched. For example, when study participants are knowingly enrolled in a trial that is measuring the effectiveness of a weight loss drug, they will put more effort into losing weight. Without any other controlling factors (i.e. the requirement of a standardized diet and exercise program) many people taking a placebo are going to lose weight. Why would people lose weight when taking a placebo? Because they know they are enrolled in a weight loss trial. This means that they will modify their lifestyle simply because they know that they are being watched by somebody. Other examples include the impact of known observers on hand hygiene in the hospital setting. When hospital staff know they are being watched, they are far more likely to wash their hands before and after any patient encounters.
This same phenomenon happens everyday on your local CrossFit box. Do you really think you would have gotten that PR without the accountability of your fellow athletes and coaches? Sure you may have been able to push yourself on your own; however, chances are that the Hawthorne effect has pushed you to another level. I know for a fact that I would not have recorded a sub-5 minute Fran without the encouragement and accountability provided by my coach. Having him in face making sure I pushed beyond my normal limits and knowing that he was watching my every move kept me moving at a pace I would otherwise have considered impossible.

I give some credit to the Hawthorne effect for some of the weight loss and overall improvement in my physical fitness. Sure, I still needed to put in the work, to eat smarter, sleep better, and allow for appropriate recovery. But there needed to be a change in my routine to induce change. Prior to my decision to try CrossFit, I had hit a plateau. I was gaining weight, my overall health was suffering, and I was heading down the path towards diabetes and heart disease. I'm not going to say CrossFit saved my life. People who say that are deluded. CrossFit is simply the mechanism to improved physical fitness and quality of life. Individuals make the decision to change. CrossFit (or any other physical activity) merely provides the framework and accountability to self-improvement. Knowing that I am being watched by others, measured by others, chased by others, shoot maybe even envied by others makes me try just a bit harder. I am the embodiment of the Hawthorne effect. Don't believe me? Maybe I will post some before and after pictures.

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