A Field Study Around a Racial Justice Protest on a College Campus: The Proximal Impact of Collective Action on the Social Change Attitudes of Uninvolved Bystanders


  • Hema Preya Selvanathan
  • Brian Lickel


Social movements often use protests and other collective actions to draw public attention to their cause, yet the psychological reactions to such actions from their targeted audience is not well understood. This research investigates uninvolved bystanders’ immediate responses to collective action using a quasi-experimental field study designed around a racial justice protest that took place at a large public university in the United States. We surveyed two student samples exactly one week apart at the same time and location, first in the absence of protest and then again at the time of a racial justice protest (Total N = 240). We found that participants who believed that racism was not a problem on campus had more negative attitudes toward racial justice protests and protesters, as well as lower support for anti-racist efforts on campus on the day of the protest, compared to the day without a protest. These findings provide initial evidence that a protest encounter may trigger a backlash effect amongst those who have the most resistant attitudes toward social change.