Most are aware of the mass protests that have been taking place in London over government plans to increase university student fees. Some people have remained peaceful hoping to convince local lawmakers to change their minds while others have become violent, with Prince Charles and wife Camilla’s car even coming under attack during a protest. Whenever large masses of people take to the streets to express a common goal, it provides an opportunity for social scientists to examine the specific psychological processes which must take place for people to engage in collective action. Much research has been done looking at the reasons people decide to engage in collective action and the factors that lead action to be normative or non-normative, but there is still so much more to learn. Why do some people take part in action and other don’t? What makes those people get involved and what factors predict the type of action they use?
Most research has found that identity is in important predictor of action. In a study looking specifically at student protesters, researchers found evidence that in particular, affect as a function of group membership directly influences collective action involvement while pro-action arguments acted indirectly to predict action. So, not surprisingly, the feelings one has because of their group membership is a good predictor of if they will engage in collective action. In a very thorough review of collective action research thus far, in an article in Social Issues, Stephen Wright discusses a number of factors that predict collective action including social identity and other well-known psychological theories. He also discusses some new directions psychologists interested in action may want to consider when developing research and theories on the topic. If you are interested in what is already known so far about collection action and where scientists will be looking in the future, I recommend reading his article.