Personality, Political Attitudes and Participation in Protests: The Direct and Mediated Effects of Psychological Factors on Political Activism

By Ribeiro, Ednaldo Aparecido; Borba, Julian | Brazilian Political Science Review, September 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Personality, Political Attitudes and Participation in Protests: The Direct and Mediated Effects of Psychological Factors on Political Activism


Ribeiro, Ednaldo Aparecido, Borba, Julian, Brazilian Political Science Review


Although the first generation of studies on political participation focused its attention on electoral modalities such as voting and party engagement, new forms of activism became absorbed into research agendas after the 1960s, particularly those studies linked to protests (NORRIS, 2007). Part of the literature concerned with these new forms of political citizenship has sought to identify their conditioning factors at a macrosocial level (DALTON and ROHRSCHNEIDER, 2002; TARROW, 1998), associated with the political and economic structure of countries and global regions, but also the factors at a micro level (VERBA, SCHLOZMAN and BRADY, 1995), such as material resources (income) and cognitive resources (schooling, knowledge of politics). Focusing attention on this dimension of individual conditions, the present article discusses a component still seldom explored by political scientists: personality.

Some researchers investigating the psychology of individual differences have argued that personal traits should be considered when explaining participatory political behaviour (MONDAK, 2010). However, this provocation has generated few responses from Political Science and there have thus far been few attempts to empirically test the relations between personality traits and different forms of political engagement. Some pioneering initiatives in the area should be highlighted, such as the work of Mussen and Wyszynski (1952), who back in the 1950s had observed that less participatory individuals had a tendency towards passivity, inflexible thinking and submissiveness towards authority, and Sniderman (1975), who published Personality and Democratic Politics, showing that participation was associated with high self-esteem.

This relative disinterest can be partially explained by the difficulty involved in defining what personality is and by the absence of a basic taxonomy that could be used in empirical studies for the purpose of generating reliable data (MONDAK et al., 2010). Nonetheless, this scenario has altered significantly over the last decade and such obstacles have begun to erode with the development of instruments capable of capturing these psychological structures in a sufficiently succinct form to be included in conventional questionnaires. The immediate effect of these advances has been the recent publications of a number of studies venturing into the terrain of relations between participatory political behaviour and personality (DENNY and DOYLE, 2008; MONDAK, 2010; MONDAK and HALPERIN, 2008; MONDAK et al., 2010; VECCHIONE and CAPRARA, 2009).

Most of these works, however, focus attention on voting behaviour and other forms of activism linked to representative institutions (BLAIS and LABBE St-VINCENT, 2011; DENNY and DOYLE, 2008; GERBER et al., 2010). The works of Mondak (2010), Mondak et al. (2011) and Galego and Oberski (2012) are exceptions in this context since they have specifically examined forms of protest and will consequently be discussed later in this article. It is important to stress that these few studies take as their empirical baseline nations like the United States, the United Kingdom and, in the case of the last-mentioned study, Spain. Research conducted in countries that have experienced democratization processes relatively recently, such as those of Latin America, is even rarer, therefore. The sole exceptions regionally are two works by Mondak and collaborators published in 2010, but which are limited to just two countries (Uruguay and Venezuela).

For our own regional context, we aimed to contribute to this field by providing an initial exploration of these relations in Ribeiro and Borba (2016), in which we found interesting evidence concerning the effect of some personality traits on involvement in political protests. In this work, we point to the need to deepen our understanding of these effects through interactive strategies between the individual personality and other factors conditioning attitudes already regularly identified in studies on participation. …

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