The fields of HR and organizational behavior have gained much from experimental research. One of the earliest and most well-known experimental attempts at understanding and improving employee productivity were Elton Mayo’s Hawthorne Experiments conducted at the Western Electric factory from 1924 to 1932. Collectively, these experiments on the effect of lighting, rest periods, pay and incentives on employee behavior found that beyond the experimental conditions, employees’ motivational and social dynamics influenced productivity. Undoubtedly, these experiments changed the topography of management from Frederick Taylor’s Scientific Management approach to a social science approach. Management theory and practice have also benefited from experimental research conducted in discipline areas such as psychology. A few of the influential classic studies include those of Stanley Milgram on obedience to authority, Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment on situational versus dispositional influences on social roles, the famous Solomon Asch studies in group conformity, Leon Festinger’s studies on cognitive dissonance, John Darley and Bibb Latane’s experiments on prosocial behavior and the bystander effect, and Edward Jones and Victor Harris’ experiments on the fundamental attribution error/correspondence bias…the list goes on. These experiments, while having roots in psychology, naturally have lessons for and applications in the workplace…afterall, we are dealing with people, their cognitions, affect, and behavior, in social interactions whether at the workplace or in another context. Ultimately the aim of such experiments is to increase our predictability of employee behaviors, typically to explain their underlying causation. The external validity of laboratory research to understand management phenomena has of course been questioned. Yet, “time and again, the results of research conducted in the laboratory were found to generalize to organizational settings” (Ilgen, 1986). While experimental and field research both involve tradeoffs, “all settings, whether laboratory, field, or some combination of the two, create contextual conditions that have both advantages and disadvantages for contributing to knowledge that generalizes to human behavior in ongoing organizations” (Ilgen, 1986). Below are a few references that shed further light on the importance of experimental research to the development of management knowledge and practice. To that end, the Behavioral Research Lab at ESSEC Business School, provides opportunities to examine and provide solutions for management issues, using a multi-method approach, including the use of experiments.

This page will be regularly updated on new studies conducted by our faculty in the Management Department. We look forward to your participation!

Further reading/references:

Dipboye, R.L., & Flanagan, M.F. (1979). Are findings in the field more generalizable than in the laboratory? American Psychologist, 34, 141-150.

Gordon, M.E., Slade, L.A., & Schmitt, N. (1986). The "Science of the Sophomore" revisited: From conjecture to empiricism. Academy of Management Review, 11, 191-207.

Gorman, C.D., Clover, W.H., & Doherty, M.E. (1978). Can we learn anything about interviewing real people from "interviews" of paper people? Two studies of the external validity of a paradigm. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 22, 165-192.

Greenberg, J. (1987). The college sophomore as guinea pig: Setting the record straight. Academy of Management Review, 12, 157-159.

Ilgen, D.R. (1986). Laboratory research: A question of when, not if. In E. A. Locke (ed.), Generalizing from laboratory to field settings (pp. 257-279).Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Sawyer, A.G. (1975). Demand artifacts in laboratory experiments in consumer research. Journal of Consumer Research, 1, 20-30.

Schwenk, C.R. (1982). Why sacrifice rigour for relevance? A proposal for combining laboratory and field research in Strategic Management. Strategic Management Journal, 3, 213-225.

Weber, S.J., & Cook, T.D. (1972). Subject effects in laboratory research: An examination of subject roles, demand characteristics, and valid inference. Psychological Bulletin, 77, 273-295.