Extreme protest actions negatively affect public support for social movements

Extreme protest actions that may apply pressure to institutions and raise awareness, could also undermine public support, a recent study suggests.

2 min read

A recent study released in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology set out to determine the impact extreme protest actions have on public support for social movements.

According to the findings, publicized earlier this year by a team of researchers at the University of Toronto, extreme protest actions that may apply pressure to institutions and raise awareness, could also undermine public support.

The study involved 3,399 participants from six experiments assessing how the various forms of protest behaviors govern support for popular movements. The social movements included in the experiments tackled abortion laws, animal rights, and racial disparities.

During the experiments, protest actions taken by the participants included vandalizing properties and blocking highways.

“In all studies we found effects were driven by diminished social identification with the movement,” the study’s co-authors stated in the findings.

“Observers viewed extreme protest actions to be immoral, reducing observers’ emotional connection to the movement and, in turn, reducing identification with and support for the movement,” the co-authors also determined.

“Taken together with prior research showing that extreme protest actions can be effective for applying pressure to institutions and raising awareness of movements, these findings suggest an activist’s dilemma, in which the same protest actions that may offer certain benefits are also likely to undermine popular support for social movements.”

The study, titled The activist’s dilemma: Extreme protest actions reduce popular support for social movements, was led by Chloe Kovacheff and Matthew Feinberg of the University of Toronto, in addition to Robb Willer of Stanford University.

© Image courtesy of University of Michigan

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