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Anger and Anxiety: Which emotions foster and inhibit collective action?

WorkgroupSocial Processes
FundingMargarete von Wrangell-Programm (MWK)
Project description

A glance at the news makes it clear: All over the world, people are taking to the streets for various reasons. Their passionate commitment to (or against) a cause is often the result of social influence, which today often occurs via emotionalised online communication. But what exactly motivates people to participate in demonstrations, sign petitions, and otherwise engage collectively?

When numerous people act collectively to achieve a common goal, research refers to this as collective action. Collective action often arises when there is a discrepancy, that is, when a situation does not match people's ideals. This is the case, for example, when people perceive that their own group is disadvantaged. Such discrepancies are often associated with evaluating a situation as unfair, to which people react with anger. For this reason, anger is often seen as an emotion promoting collective action. But not all people potentially affected by a discrepancy engage in collective action - and not all who do engage in such protest do so out of anger. Experiencing a discrepancy can also cause fear - for example, of potential sanctions for engaging in collective action. However, the role of fear has been insufficiently studied in the context of collective action.

Therefore, in addition to anger, we specifically examine fear as an emotion relevant to collective action. To this end, we use experiments that draw on materials from media reports or postings on social networks. We conduct these experiments with regard to different discrepancies and in different groups potentially experiencing a discrepancy. In doing so, we focus explicitly on whether discrepancies trigger both anger and anxiety. Moreover, we examine how these two emotions affect information processing in the context of calls for collective action in order to understand better why anger and fear can promote - or inhibit - collective action. The insights gained from these studies improve our understanding of social change processes and, in particular, shed light on the role that emotions play in these processes. In doing so, they also help to assess the extent to which current protests reflect a so-called "post-factual age" in which emotions are more influential than facts.


Kleinhansl, M., & Ditrich, L. (2024). Sorge und Ärger, Hoffnung und Stolz: Welche Klimagefühle gibt es und wie hängen sie mit unserem Verhalten zusammen? Das In-Mind Magazin, 04,2023.


Dr. Lara Ditrich Dr. Lara Ditrich
Tel.: +49 7071 979-268