Today I want to write about the Hawthorne Effect and three possible ways to test for “the truth”.

A careful observer will note that people can be pretty inconsistent between what they say and what they do. In some cases, a person might tell “white lies” simply because he wants to be polite, liked and approved by others. In other cases, a person might simply have an inflated ego and certain things he says cannot be backed by verifiable facts.

A deep understanding of the Hawthorne Effect will help us identify patterns in a person’s behaviour and motivations at an early stage. This will effectively help us pre-empt and subsequently avoid any possible “time wasting” interactions as PR practitioners.

The relationship between “the Hawthorne Effect” and “the truth”.

 According to Investopedia, the Hawthorne effect refers to the “fact that people will modify their behavior simply because they are being observed.”

According to, the “truth” is defined as “a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle, or the like.” If you think carefully about it, the Hawthorne effect implies that people will modify their words under different contexts. How then, can we learn to avoid making the wrong decisions based on the blind trust of other people’s words?

Three possible ways to test for “the truth”.

Method #1: Follow the money.

I usually test a person’s heart by looking at where he spends his money. I will personally go as far to say that nobody will lie with their money, whereas people sometimes lie with their words.

The two metrics I usually use to test are:

  1. Whether the person will even spend money on a particular thing; and
  2. The percentage of income or wealth taken by the expenditure.

The implications are pretty straightforward. If you want to…

  • …Test if a guy is serious about you, observe his willingness to spend on you. Whether you choose to accept the expenditure is another thing;
  • …Test if you are ready to launch your minimum viable product, simply do market validation by asking customers to “pre-order”.
  • …Test if foreigners are valued by society, simply check out statistics to see how many foreigners are gainfully employed as a percentage of the total number of foreigners currently residing in the same society.

Method #2: Follow the data.

I usually insist on black on white whenever I suspect someone to be a sociopath. For example, you can test whether the person is a narcissist via certain exhibited narcissistic behaviour that can be observed and verified.

According to Harvard psychologist Martha Stout, one out of 25 people in America is a sociopath. This translates to four out of every 100 people you will ever meet. The president of the United States of America, Donald Trump, is known to be one of them. With people spending more and more time on social media, an increasing number of people have started to exhibit more and more narcissistic tendencies too.

As egos get increasingly inflated, it might be wise to habitually verify words against data.

Method #3: Check for consistency over time.

There is this saying that “time will reveal hearts”.

Motivations are usually consistent over time. Once you have collected some data on a person, you can then start to test for his motivations and map out his priorities.

A Caveat

There is a common stereotype that “Finns are honest”. So does this mean that you can always trust ALL Finns in what they say?

I have always found this stereotype to be weird, because Finns are also human beings. While it might be true that “Most Finns do not lie”, the same statement does not mean that “Most Finns tell the truth”.  This is because you can always not tell the truth by the deliberate omission of facts.

Also, if you compare this with yet another stereotype that “Finns do not talk much”, you will start to wonder—“If one does not even talk, how can one lie?”

Therefore, especially in Finland, it is important to observe what is unsaid, perhaps even more than what is said.

I know from prior working experiences that there ARE narcissists in Finland, sometimes also in high positions.

And that’s perfectly normal, for Finns are human beings too. We just have to learn how to identify, preempt and avoid potential pitfalls when dealing with such people.

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I’m the founder of IKIGUIDE (, Singapore’s first portal on personal branding. We work with politicians, influencers, executives, entrepreneurs and students.

In my free time I also blog at This blog is read by a monthly average of 20,000 people worldwide.

Twitter: @katamichiww


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