Masses Behaviour

Nadeem Yousaf


The research is interdisciplinary using theories from various disciplines to understand the factors that bring masses, as a collectivity, under the condition of Organizational learned helplessness that changes their thinking, attitude and behavior towards the society and state. The study is significant because it will integrate theories and views from many disciplines and open up new dimensions and avenues for further discussions in the field of mass behavior in economically and politically declining states. Briefly, it will be investigated the options that the masses are left with while into the condition of Organizational Learned Helplessness and its implications on the society and state. It is a unique and interesting research as views from different disciplines will be amalgamated to understand the process and aftermaths of the organizational learned helplessness.

Literature Review

Cognitive processes are important as they influence perception, attitude, emotions and behaviors (Saksand Krupat 1988) and nothing works in isolation as Lewin (1973) argues that parts are in immediate relationship and responsive to each other. Perception is a cognitive process in which incoming information are processed, interpreted and meanings are attached to it. Process of interpreting information is influenced by many factors such as attitudes and attributions; as these factors change so do the perception and interpretation. Likewise, emotional reaction depends upon the meaning attached to the event or series of events; however actual behavior not solely depends upon the emotional reaction but upon the available resources and circumstances.

Another role of perception is, it helps in developing relationship between variables. For example, the research on the relationship between efforts and rewards shows that individuals invest physical or/and mental energies till the time they perceive that their efforts will bring the desired results. Porter & Lawler’s (1983) in VIE model propose, the greater the individuals’ expectancy that efforts will ultimately accomplish the goal(s), the greater the effort expanded; similarly the greater the instrumentality or the perceived probability that reward is contingent on performance, the greater the effort expanded. It can be inferred from the model that a person will not put efforts if a notion is internalized that efforts will not bring the desired results.

It is suggested that human beings efforts remain alive until individuals believe that they have control over the environment (Pervin 1984). Once individuals feel incapacitate to control the environment, they will fear taking action, which is termed as learned helplessness (Peterson, Maier and Seligman 1995). Learned helplessness is a type of conditioning which is a consequence of continuous negative reinforcement to the efforts that one’s put in to get positive results. Continuous negative reinforcement not only frustrates but also develops a negative mental set about one’s own abilities to co-op with problems. It restricts a person to take action; though breaking a mental set can improve the condition, or at least, does not deteriorate the existing situation.

The researcher has raised an interesting question in his Master thesis whether or not individuals as a group can develop a phenomenon of learned helplessness and argued that it is possible, which was termed as organizational learned helplessness. Based on the theory of learned helplessness, this writer has given the theory of organizational learned helplessness (OLH) in which it was contended that a collectivity can be a victim of learned helplessness as a group (Yousaf 1993). Scott (1976 in Adizes 1988) also supports the argument when he argues that the chief issue of declining organization is not whether it is capable of surviving but whether its management is willing to make an attempt to save it. However, the condition of OLH does not refer only to a small group holding authority in the system rather it refers to collective perception of bereft and hopelessness which spreads at the grass root level. It was argued in the research that this condition can emerge in any entity whether it is a formal or informal – or, a micro or macro organization. According to the theory, if an organization, as a collective group, could not achieve the desired level of development for a long term it will prey to organizational learned helplessness. Reviewing the literature on organizations shows that breakdown of leadership (Yukl 2009; Merry and Brown 1987), ad-hoc decision making following the model of Garbage-can (March and Olson 1979), promotion of sycophant and inadequate processes of handling conflict spoil the system. In the spoiled system, leadership hardly designs an adequate structure; consequently, the organization oscillates between various types of structures without any direction in which formalization loses its importance. The key participants assign blame to anyone but themselves for deterioration of the organization which leads to develop antagonistic organizational culture. The major attributes of antagonistic culture are: (1) “might is right” becomes a dominating norm; (2) threats to opponents are frequently used to subdue them; (3) decisions are made out of the formal process (4) and consultation is considered waste of time. Aftermath of the spoiled system are climate of low moral and motivation, high level of frustration and unhappiness and feeling of alienation at the grass root level, which is termed as OLH (Yousaf 1993). Some of the important questions are what are the implications when feelings of OLH are spread at the grass root level and what are the forms of actions that the masses adopt under the condition of OLH?

Research in the field of social psychology gives insight about cognitive reactions and behaviors of individuals when they perceive that a collectivity or a group is failed in promoting or/and protecting collective interests. Studies on individual cognitive reactions and behaviors in a group point out, individuals prefer to keep membership in a group and loyal to it until they draw benefits from the group (Sherif and Sherif 1969). Social equity theory argues that good mutual relationships are maintained until advantages are more than disadvantages or at least equal (Saks and Edward 1988). Intensity of good mutual relationship declines when one of the parties perceives that keeping relationship is not benefiting (Rusbult 1983). The ‘theory of relative deprivation’ contends that people (or groups) compare their situations with other people (or groups) and they get prey to ‘relative deprivation’ if they feel that other people (or groups) are living in better conditions and environment, which cause low moral and high frustration (Levy 2006; Meyrs 2004). Turning to studies on business organization show that employee’ turnover increases and productivity goes down when employees feel alienated in declining organizations (Merry and Brown 1987). All these theories from different disciplines suggest that amicable relationship between an entity and members can only be maintained when a relationship fulfills certain needs of the members. Relationship with an entity is an unwritten psychological contract under which individual cooperate with each other and accept the formalization (Schein 2010). In return, members expect that a collectivity provides means that satisfy their extrinsic and intrinsic needs in order to keep relationship intact; the psychological contract weakens if a collectivity fails to fulfill its obligations. Studies on motivation and satisfaction also highlight importance of extrinsic and intrinsic rewards for the members and organizations. Significance of extrinsic rewards is accepted from Hegal (1966) to Herzberg (1968). It is said that extrinsic rewards might not increase satisfaction but absence of them will increase dissatisfaction and frustration (Herzberg 1968) or as in Sen (1990) opinion that economic prosperity is, at least, an intermediate goal that must be achieved as it contributes in human lives. Nevertheless, extrinsic rewards are not the sole rewards to keep motivation alive, they are essential because they satisfy primary needs, directly or indirectly, and a source to move on the hierarchy of needs (see Maslow and Alderfer theories on needs).

If we treat state as an organized entity, it is expected that a state must create equal opportunities of growth for its residents, fair distribution of national wealth and uphold rule of law where everyone is treated equally before the law. It is expected that collective benefits should be trickled down from the top to lower levels, instead of restricting the benefits to a specific class. Fair distribution of collective benefits is a major source for individuals to fulfill their needs and desires. A system disrupts if it follows the Marx and Engles (2010) proposition in which they proposed that a state-organization sustains privileges of those with property (meaning rich). In this case, It is argued that if the state experiencing the situation as stated above it means that the state has become an instrument that only coordinate the divided society in the interests of the ruling class (Held 2006; Marx and Engles 2010; Weber 1978).

It is vital to pay attention on Marx proposition as it sets the grounds for further discussion as to what will happens when feeling traverse among people that the state-organization has failed to fulfill its commitment to look after interest of its members (mostly common members)? Using Hirshman’s (1970) concept of loyalty, voice and exit, it will be argued, under the condition of low moral and motivation and high frustration and unhappiness, masses will show less loyalty to the state and high tendencies for exit and voice strategies.

In this research, exit strategy refers to finding the means to emigrate from the state in which they have gained membership, mostly, by birth. This strategy is not new; citizens of many countries adopted this option when they felt discontent with the state. For example, studying history of Norway shows, when Norway as a state had failed to look after economic and political interests of the masses, Norwegians followed exit strategy and a large number of people migrated to North America (Norwegian Immigration 2008; Olson 1983). Obviously, exit strategy option is not available to all members of the state so they adopt voice action. The literature review on aggression enlightens us that voice actions can be active or passive depending upon the available means to the frustrated and demoralized individuals (See Saks and Krupat 1988). Active voice options include actions such as raising voice through violent agitation, armed aggression and similar activities. An important question is as to why people choose to take active voice actions when they feel discontent in the state? The question will be dealt in-depth in the research; however it is suffice to mention here that dissatisfied people get inclined to follow aggressive path when they meet deaf ears and closed doors of bureaucratic and political leadership (Yousaf 2004; Olson 1983) and discontent with justice system (Yousaf 2003). Significantly, majority of people have neither resources nor psychological tendencies to engage in aggressive actions so they, most probably, opt for passive actions to register their annoyance and dissatisfaction. Passive actions refer to actions which are not aggressive or violent; however they can be antisocial or non-antisocial such as indulging in corruption or lack of enthusiasm in participating in legitimate political activities, for example, not casting vote in elections, and so on. Contrary to Lipset (1969), political apathy will not be seen in this research as the reflection of healthy democracy; rather, disinterest in political processes is seen as passive voice action that lays down the foundation for a failed state (Criminalization and/or Delegitimization of the State 2008). Extensive and continuous adaptation of exit and voice strategies by common members reflects the condition of OLH in which members considers that the state as organization could not prosper and survive in the current shape hence they look for means to follow exit or voice or both strategies which improves their life or at least become a source of releasing frustration.

Research Issues:

On the basis of above discussion, it is hypothesized that the aftermaths of OLH are as followed:

Hypothesis 1: Emigration increases under the condition of OLH.

Hypothesis 2: Under the condition of OLH, dishonesty and corruption increase.

Hypothesis 3: Religious forces get stronger and mobilize people for aggressive actions for promoting vested interests under the condition of OLH.

Hypothesis 4: Psychological disorders and rate of suicide increases

Hypothesis 5: Alienation increase towards political processes under the condition of OLH.

Hypothesis 6: Highly low trust and confidence on political leadership and public administration.

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