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Angry about the past, anxious about the future? Investigating two emotional pathways to collective action

WorkgroupSocial Processes
Project description

News about world events, as well as a look at recent history, often show: Passionate protests are important drivers of social change and undertaken for a wide variety of causes. This type of joint action, directed toward a shared goal, is known as collective action. Emotions play a central role in this behavior. But when do which emotions emerge? And how do they foster collective action?

Numerous studies suggest that protests occur when people perceive a collective discrepancy, that is, when an observed situation deviates from their ideals. Researchers have so far focused primarily on situations in which members of a particular group evaluate the current or past treatment of that group as unfair. However, when confronted with a discrepancy, individuals may not only focus on its causes, but also speculate about how the situation will develop in the future. In doing so, they may conclude: Things could get much worse. This alternative focus on the future (rather than the past) has been largely neglected in previous research. While a focus on past injustices is associated with anger (which encourages protest), a focus on potential negative future developments is associated with anxiety, an emotion that has received little attention in research on collective action.

Therefore, this project aims to extend existing models of what drives collective action by considering anxiety. In a first step, we conduct experiments to investigate which information triggers which emotions in the context of a discrepancy. To this end, we use materials that are, for example, based on media reports or content from social networks. Subsequently, we examine how particularly anger and anxiety affect the willingness to participate in various forms of collective action. Longitudinal field studies complement these experimental studies. Overall, the project provides important building blocks for a better understanding of social change processes and their motivating factors. Through its focus on emotions, it also helps assess whether emotions are more influential than facts for protests, as suggested by the designation of the current era as a "post-factual age".


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

Project team

Sarah Gina Febriana