Master thesis: Explaining radical group behavior

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This was my master’s thesis titled ‘Testing the transferability of collective action theories to radical action’. It was a lot of fun working on it and I am very grateful to my supervisor Prof. Russell Spears.

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Collective action theories, guided by the social identity approach, explain goal-directed group behavior like demonstrations and political activism. We investigate whether the same theories can explain radical behaviors like group violence. New research contests this and proposes theory adjustments regarding the psychological constructs group efficacy, in-group identification, and intergroup emotions. Our experimental analysis (N=298) showed that local efficacy, as indicated by in-group support, has a constant positive effect across moderate and radical actions. The effect of global efficacy, in the form of political influence, neither increased nor decreased collective action of any sort, reflecting the ambiguous theories and the complexity of the construct. The positive effect of in-group identification vanished when actions were radical instead of moderate. The standout function of intergroup anger as a predictor of both moderate and radical behavior was supported while more extreme emotions like contempt and disgust did not provide additional predictive value. Further, participants were more strategic when endorsing radical as opposed to moderate actions by considering anonymity and in-group presence. In general, collective action theories, especially the SIDE model, served as a good foundation for explaining radical action in this research. However, in-group identification and situational characteristics affect radical action differently than moderate action, warranting theoretical adjustments.