The Psychology of Effective Protest

Posted on March 3, 2017

Photo: flickr

In recent weeks and months, news of various protests held by numerous anti-Trump groups have been swarming headlines worldwide. The Women’s March was held on the 21st of January this year, and many other marches have also been lined up. With the prevalence of such demonstrations comes many questions about the true effectiveness of these protests. Protests range from the peaceful and non-violent to the more expressive and splashy.

In a study led by Matthew Feinberg from the University of Toronto, it was found that while the more expressive protests undoubtedly garner much more media coverage and perhaps increased viewership, the main goals of these activists are not met. Strangely, participants pandered towards protests which were less violent. For instance, when participants were shown either a video of a “moderate” anti-Trump protest, in which protestors aired their views peacefully, or a news feature about an “extreme” protest, in which protestors stalled traffic, preventing Trump supporters from attending a Trump rally, those who were shown the former were more anti-Trump. Both liberals and conservatives alike displayed such behaviour to differing extents.

This seems so counter-intuitive that even “extreme” activists themselves do not realise that their loud actions are undermining the effectiveness of their protests. This is because the less radical and trend-setting find it difficult to align their views with those of these extreme protestors, even when they agree with them. The pressures they face to conform to societal norms overshadows their personal beliefs. This is known as the dis-identification effect: as the word suggests, these moderates distance themselves from staunch protestors when there is potential disruption to the social order involved.

Omar Wasow from Princeton University concurred with these findings, stating that protestors must “appeal not to the liberals, but to the moderates.” Their goal should be to gain the support of those who would usually not agree with their views, but can still be persuaded. In essence, these are the people who can vote for both Trump and Obama.


Category(s):Identity Problems, Other

Source material from The Atlantic


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