16 December 2002
Protesting is good for you, say psychologistsA study by psychologists at the University of Sussex has found that as well as potentially changing the world, participation in protests and demonstrations is actually good for you.
This is one of the findings of a large-scale interview study led by Dr John Drury, Lecturer in Social Psychology, into protest crowds and social movements, often known as 'collective action'.
"Many published activist accounts refer to feelings of encouragement and confidence emerging from experiences of collective action," says Dr Drury. "But it is not always clear how and why such empowerment occurs, so we aimed to explain what factors within a collective action event contribute most to such feelings."
The study involved in-depth interviews with nearly 40 activists from a variety of backgrounds, in which over 160 experiences of collective action were described. The range of events described by interviewees included traditional marches, fox-hunt sabotages, anti-capitalist street parties, environmental direct actions, and industrial mass pickets.
"The main factors contributing to a sense of empowerment were the realization of the collective identity, the sense of movement potential, unity and mutual support within a crowd," says Dr Drury.
"However, what was also interesting was the centrality of emotion in the accounts. Empowering events were almost without exception described as joyous occasions. Participants experienced a deep sense of happiness and even euphoria in being involved in protest events. Simply recounting the events in the interview itself brought a smile to the faces of the interviewees."
Psychologists have become increasingly interested in the role of positive experiences and emotions not just in making people feel good but also in promoting psychological and physical health. Uplifting experiences are associated with a variety of indicators of well-being, such as speed of physiological recovery; ability to cope with physical stressors; and the reduction of pain, anxiety and depression.
"Collective actions, such as protests, strikes, occupations and demonstrations, are less common in the UK than they were perhaps 20 years ago," says Dr Drury. "The take-home message from this research therefore might be that people should get more involved in campaigns, struggles and social movements, not only in the wider interest of social change, but also for their own personal good."