Activism is Good For You

The BPS Research Digest blog has recently posted this post about an interesting bit of research on political activism. Apparently…

One hundred and twelve student participants were encouraged to write to the college cafeteria director calling on him to source food more locally and ethically. These students subsequently reported feeling more energised and alive than a control group of participants who wrote to the director calling for tastier food and more choice (more global measures of happiness showed no difference between the groups).

It’s not simply that the students in the activism condition were more motivated by the task they’d been given – in fact, the students in the control condition said they felt more strongly about the issues they were writing about than did the students in the activism condition.

Which is kind of interesting. At conference, I attended a training session about motivating and expanding local party membership where, amongst other things, it was suggested that becoming a member of a party was an act that might be thought of in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, fitting in somewhere near the top of the pyramid in the “self-actualization” section.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

At the time, it struck me as perhaps a little pretentious, but now I’m not so sure. The researchers suggest one possible conclusion to draw from this:

“Activist groups might use these results to help recruit new members from a broader range of people, ” the researchers said. “Further, they might be able to find ways to emphasise the psychological benefits of activism to help encourage current activists in their daily struggle for a better society.”

Possibly, but I’ve got a slightly different question: What does it all tell us about the type of person who it might be most worth approaching? What is it exactly that people get out of activism?

According to the paper itself‘s abstract…

Potential mediators of the relationship between activism and well-being and the usefulness of these findings are discussed.

Unfortunately you have to pay to read it, so we’ll all just have to speculate about what it might be that associates activism with higher measures of “hedonic, eudaimonic, and social well-being”.

Well don’t look at me…

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