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STUDY: The effectiveness of ‘extreme’ animal rights protests

While extreme protest behaviors may reduce public support in the short-term, they may serve a longer-term goal of raising awareness among politicians and society.

SARA STREETER: ‘Social movements exist to effect change. They seek to empower and enfranchise the disempowered and disenfranchised. Their tactics vary but their objectives generally fall into two categories: (1) gain media attention to expand societal awareness of their cause, and (2) to recruit as much public support as possible… Social movements gain adherents in three ways: they illuminate an injustice, convince people that a social action will succeed, and forge a group identity to mobilize collective activities.

But when movements employ extreme tactics such as inflammatory rhetoric, blocking traffic, disrupting citizens’ everyday activities and damaging property, they risk losing supporters. While extreme tactics grab attention, they fall outside accepted social norms. Rather than gaining converts to a cause, they may have the opposite effect. Yet committed activists may not be aware of the potential backlash from such tactics, or they may consider it the price of being heard. To assess this tradeoff, researchers conducted five experiments in two phases using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The first three experiments examined the impact of extreme behaviors on bystander attitudes…

The results confirm that extreme tactics backfire in gaining popular support for a cause. At the same time, it appears that many activists are unaware of their potential negative effects. They believe that extreme tactics will both raise awareness and gain movement support… The researchers note that these results may not hold true in the real world. The highly controlled experimental conditions remove the contextual elements that could lead to different outcomes… And, while extreme behaviors may reduce support in the short term, they may serve a longer-term goal of raising awareness among politicians and society’.  SOURCE…

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