Be an Ally: The Role of Identity in Inspiring Collective Action

Erika Kirgios, PhD Candidate at the Wharton School

Abstract: People are frequently asked to engage in collective action—voting, protesting, signing petitions, donating—to uplift members of traditionally marginalized groups and encourage social change. Prior research suggests that minority group members who advocate for collective action are penalized for doing so, while majority group members are not. In this work, I shift focus from perceptions of people who take collective action to how effectively people are able to persuade others to engage in collective action. I predict that people will be more likely to engage in collective action and support social change initiatives when the cause is promoted by dominant demographic group members than minority group members. Endorsement from unaffected majority group members may be more surprising and therefore make the cause seem more important and urgent. However, I also theorize that minority group members will inspire more collective action than majority group members if they explicitly highlight their identity in their communications (e.g., by saying “As a woman, I’m asking you to attend the Women’s March” vs. “As a man, I’m asking you to attend the Women’s March”). I suggest that when affected minority group members highlight their identity in this way, it becomes salient that they themselves are a potential beneficiary of the prosocial behavior—and people are more likely to engage in prosocial behavior to help identifiable victims. I plan to explore these hypotheses in a large-scale field experiment and in follow-up online studies. These findings stand to identify who should promote social and organizational change efforts (beneficiaries or non-beneficiaries) and how opportunities to engage in those efforts should be communicated in order to maximize behavior change and buy-in from others.