What leads people who are not social or political activists to engage in collective action to change a situation for the better? Previous research on collective action has focused on the concept of group efficacy, the belief that the group to which one belongs has the ability, as a unified group, to create change. However, this research generally focuses on situations in which hope is high and assumes that change is possible.
This paper, however, focused on what happens in situations in which hope is not high — when people perceive change to be impossible. We hypothesized that in such cases, efficacy would not drive motivation to engage in collective action, or, in other words, that hope is a precondition for the influence of efficacy on action.
In order to test this, we ran three experiments in three distinct and relevant contexts. Study 1 was conducted within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a context manifesting low hope. We recruited 103 Israeli participants via an online survey company and, after measuring everyone’s levels of hope for peace, we randomly divided them into two groups. One group read a text increasing their group efficacy beliefs (by telling them that their group has the ability to promote change through unified action), while the other read a text decreasing such beliefs. We then measured their willingness to take part in a list of activities to create change in the current situation. Results showed that increasing or decreasing a feeling of efficacy did not make a difference in people’s motivation to take part in collective action.
Study 2 was conducted in an ambiguous context, the privatization of the NHS in the United Kingdom. We recruited 196 participants using Prolific Academic and divided them randomly into 4 groups, combining two manipulation: hope (by telling participants that reversing the privatization process was either possible or not possible), and efficacy (by telling participants that the British public either has or does not have the ability to promote change through unified action). As in the previous study, we then measured their willingness to take part in a list of activities to create change in the current situation. Results showed that the high group efficacy manipulation led participants to be more motivated to take part in collective action, but only when hope was high. When hope was low, group efficacy did not lead to any change in people’s attitudes. In other words, group efficacy was relevant only when people believed that there was hope for change in the first place.
Lastly, Study 3 was run in the context of attitudes toward gun control reform in the United States. We conducted the study soon after the Las Vegas mass shooting (October 1, 2017), making this context very relevant. We recruited 249 liberal American participants using Amazon Mechanical Turk, using the same method as the previous study. Results showed that once again, increasing group efficacy beliefs led participants to be more motivated to engage in collective action to promote gun reform, but only when hope for change was induced. When hope was low, group efficacy became irrelevant to their willingness to engage in unified action.
Overall, this research revealed the importance of hope in promoting participation in collective action. Group efficacy induced action motivation (as previous research has shown), but only when hope for change was high. In other words, hope serves a precondition to the effectivity of group efficacy.
These findings are described in the article entitled Yes we can? Group efficacy beliefs predict collective action, but only when hope is high, recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.