Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Follow the leader…but which one?

In 2007 the Conservative party won the UK election, but by 20 seats too few to form a majority.  This meant they formed a coalition government by incorporating the liberal democrats into a joint government between the two parties.  However, the balance of power seems to be unevenly distributed with reports showing that significantly more Tory policies have come into action since the election in comparison to Lib Dem policies.

This is an example of cooptation.  This is where a group or individual absorb their opponents into the leadership of an organization, increasing the likelihood that opponents will conform to the interests of the organization rather than going against.  If the power were shared equally between the people, then there would be democratic participation.  If only the burdens of power are shared, or the sharing of power is symbolic, then cooptation is a tool for implementing the mandates of the actual leaders.  In this case, Nick Clegg shares the burdens such as media coverage and public disapproval, but the actual power that he has seems as if it’s only symbolic.  This can explain why more Tory policies have come been passed since the election.

Lawler, Youngs and Lesh (1978) conducted an experiment to explore the effect of cooptation.  Targets were in a group of three (non target and a confederate) whose performance was measured.  Their groups could either form a coalition, which destroys 50% of leaders income, as a revolt at inequitable pay, or if the group was a test group, the target would be offered a promotion (cooptation). 

Table 1: Percentage of groups that formed coalitions


Table one shows the results.  When a cooptation strategy was in play, only 20% of targets revolted against the leader and formed a coalition, compared to 80% in the control condition.  This shows that Cooptation strategy stops revolts in inequitable situations (like a dis-balance of power in a government coalition).

Further experiments showed that cooptation works better when;
     A) The offer provides target of cooptation a source of personal gain
     B) The offer is a result of the leaders own volition rather than situation constraints,
     C) The leader conveys a strong commitment to follow through on the promotion offer.

A and C are also very apt for the coalition government.  The offer of a coalition government provided Nick Clegg a source of huge personal gain, and David Cameron had to commit to it if he wanted to become Prime Minister.  So, we should actually be calling it a Cooptation Government.


Lawler, E. J., Youngs, G. A., & Lesh, M. D. (1978). Cooptation and coalition mobilization. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 8, 199-214.


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