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Social psychologists are saying activists alienate people through their passion, and this has a negative impact on the rapidity of social change. But does that mean everyone needs to give up and give in? Not really, but perhaps it’s time we reassess how to present these passions to others so that people feel engaged rather than excluded. Regardless, activism is still essential to a democracy, so whether feminists, environmentalists, etc. are detested or loved, the fight must go on.

European Journal of Social Psychology via British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog:

When you picture a feminist or an environmental campaigner, what kind of a person do you think of? If you’re like the US and Canadian participants in this new paper, then you’ll have in mind an eccentric, militant, unhygienic person. Nadia Bashir and her colleagues say this commonly held stereotype of an activist is partly responsible for the sluggishness of social change. Large sections of the public agree with activists’ messages, but are put off by not wanting to affiliate themselves with the kind of person they think makes an activist.

Bashir’s team conducted five proper studies in all, and three pilot investigations. The pilot work involved Canadian students, and US participants recruited online, and was used to establish the characteristics — militant, eccentric etc — that people tend to associate with a typical feminist or environmentalist. ..

Past research on people’s advocacy for social change has tended to focus on their beliefs about the issue at hand, or on the personality characteristics of people who tend to favour social change or oppose it. This study is novel in that it focuses instead on people’s perceptions of those who campaign for social change. The findings have obvious real-life implications for activists. “… Seemingly zealous dedication to a social cause may backfire and elicit unfavourable reactions from others,” the researchers said. “… [T]he very individuals who are most actively engaged in promoting social change may inadvertently alienate members of the public and reduce pro-change motivation.”

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—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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