The Pygmalion Effect Applied to Cooperation
May 2010

Of course, you said, the idea of cooperation is good. If everyone participated, we would be close to paradise on earth! Except, not everybody wants to cooperate. And what’s frustrating is that these people still benefit from the cooperative. If the cooperative weren’t there to take on the role of watchdog, the competition wouldn’t have such good prices. So why should I stay loyal to my cooperative? For the common good? Or to help my neighbour take advantage of the competition’s lower prices? Crazy like a fox, I say!

To cooperate or not to cooperate. You need to make a choice – and isn’t freedom of choice humanity’s true sign of freedom? However, for what we can see and for what we can hear of things going on in the world today, cooperation seems to be a justifiable choice. Add to yesterday’s philosophers today’s economists, politicians, biologists, teachers, in short, a whole new wave of specialists are now showing an interest in cooperation. For some, cooperation is a means of rationalizing the economy; for others, a creative natural process in which to evolve and for other still, a powerful educational approach. Cooperation has become, now more than ever, a hot topic. Not to be discounted, an unveiling occurred last December: the General Assembly of the United Nations declared 2012 to be the International Year of Cooperatives. Now that will help the movement take flight and could even produce a Pygmalion effect… Let me explain.

The Pygmalion effect, documented by social psychology researchers, describes the ability of social expectations to create reality. For example, in one of their experiments, researchers pointed out certain students to teachers who showed the most potential based on the results of a previously administered test. In reality, the students identified as gifted had been chosen at random for the purpose of the experiment. However, by the end of the year, these students had indeed demonstrated more progress than all others. The experiment helped to prove that when teachers trust in the greater potential and abilities of their students, they will succeed better.

By extension, the Pygmalion effect occurs when we believe that a person has a certain characteristic, so we change our attitude towards the person, which influences the person to take on the specific characteristic. In other words, it’s the Hygrade effect applied to human beings instead of hotdogs. Remember the commercial “More people like them because they’re fresh… and they’re fresh because more people like them”? Well, the Pygmalion effect can be summarized as such: “I am nice because people expect me to be nice… and because they behave as if I were nice, I become nice!” 

The Pygmalion effect is the result of a mental process of projection that has an actual effect on reality. It could even explain various social behaviours such as trends, stock market crashes or powerful people movements. If the Pygmalion effect should happen here, it could very well launch cooperation as the new paradigm. More people will want to be part of it because more people will be talking about it with conviction… and they will be talking about it with conviction because more people will be part of it! From then on, your neighbour is still free to stay with the competition – and that’s the beauty of it all -, and while co-operators come forth from all over, you will have the assurance of knowing that you were right all along.

And you’ll say of course! Because the common good… is also good for me! Crazy like a fox, I say!


Colette Lebel, agr.
Director Cooperative Affairs
and Board Secretary Assistant
La Coop fédérée
Fax: 514 850-2567


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