John Henry, Golam, Pygmalion and Howthrone

John Henry said to his captain:

“You are nothing but a common man,

Before that steam drill shall beat me down,

I’ll die with my hammer in my hand.”

–          Song of John Henry

Though scientists while conducting experiments try their best to keep bias, confounding variables etc. out of research, they do creep in. I find four such biases interesting….

John Henry effect

John Henry was a freed slave who worked for rail road company, he was good in drilling holes in rocks using hammer, dynamite was then put in hole to blow up the rocks. No one could match him when it came to strength and skill. One day a salesman met owner of company to sell him steam powered drill, which could do job of drilling hole better than any manual labour. John took challenge of proving salesman that he was better than any machine. Competition took place between machine and John. John did better than machine, but died due to exhaustion.

John Henry effect occurs when control group becomes aware of its status and tries to improve its performance to show that it not in any way inferior to experimental group.

john henry

Golam effect

Golam was clay model created by Jewish priest. Golam’s job was to protect Jews, but soon it deviated from path and started killing people. Golam effect is used in organisations to explain link between bad bosses and performance of their team. The job of boss is to motivate people and improve their performance, but a bad boss demotivates people and lowers his expectations from team, the team too responds by giving low performance.

golem effect

Pygmalion effect

Pygmalion effect is opposite of Golam effect. Here a boss like Greek sculptor Pygmalion is in love with his team ( Pygmalion feel in love with sculpture of woman he had created), he praises his team and has high expectations from them, the team too feels that it is capable and responds by giving higher than expected performance.


Last is Hawthrone effect, this experiment by Elton Mayo on employees of Hawthrone plant of Western Electric Company is known to all management students. Employees realised that they were watched by scientists, this fact resulted in higher output.


Hawthrone effect can lead to wrong conclusions if subjects under observation starts altering their behaviour to impress the observer.


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