American Sociological Association

Trust Is Key Motivator for Individuals Who Protest on Behalf of People Different From Them

It appears that people who actively participate in demonstrations during social movements on behalf of those dissimilar to them do so for two important reasons.

First, they trust their outgroup peers. Secondly, the political climate in their home countries actually fosters both trust and political engagement, and this is particularly true in countries with well-functioning political institutions.

Such were the key findings from a new study — led by doctoral student Hyungjun Suh and Heidi Reynolds-Stenson, a doctoral candidate, both in the University of Arizona’s School of Sociology — that included tens of thousands of participants in several dozen countries around the world.

“Trust in non-familiar people can be a key to explaining these kinds of participation,” Suh said. He and Reynolds-Stenson presented their study at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA).

In the United States, Suh and Reynolds-Stenson said examples include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community members joining efforts to enhance nationwide equity for African-Americans, straight allies who chose to fight for LGBT rights during the recent nationwide equity movement, and white people who chose to link arms with their African-American counterparts during the Civil Rights Movement.

For their study, Suh and Reynolds-Stenson relied on a subset of data culled from the World Values Survey’s Wave 6, which featured data from numerous countries that was collected from 2010 to 2014. Using a common questionnaire, the World Values Survey, a global network of social scientists studying changing values and their impact on social and political life, collects data from people in nearly 100 countries around the world on issues related to human beliefs and values, making its data available to researchers and scientists around the globe.

Suh and Reynolds-Stenson’s subset and subsequent analysis included more than 43,000 individuals in 41 countries, including the U.S., Germany, France, Russia, Japan, Nigeria, and Uruguay.

“We notice a theoretical gap in previous literature, which has assumed the effect of trust to be context-free,” Suh said. “Trust can add to explanations of movement participation, which is not adequately explained by other theories.”

Suh and Reynolds-Stenson explain that the current reality of micro-mobilization — swiftly organized efforts often propelled by ubiquitous social networking and digital technologies, like camera-enabled smartphones — helps people to more readily sympathize with certain social movements and protest acts.

But it was most often in those countries whose governments were more open to political engagement and protest actions — that had a more welcoming political environment — that people actively engaged in supportive protest acts, Suh and Reynolds-Stenson said.

Suh called for additional research, saying the link between the trust people feel in others and why this ultimately leads them to participate in demonstrations remains understudied.


About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association, founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.

The paper, “Contingent Effect of Trust?: Ingroup and Outgroup Trust on Social Movement Participation in Political Context,” was presented on Aug. 21 in Seattle at the American Sociological Association’s 111th Annual Meeting.

To obtain a copy of the paper; for assistance reaching the study’s author(s); or for more information on other ASA presentations, members of the media can contact Daniel Fowler, ASA Media Relations Manager, at (202) 527-7885 or

La Monica Everett-Haynes, Senior Communications Manager, University of Arizona, wrote this press release. For more information about the study, members of the media can also contact Everett-Haynes at (520) 626-4405 or

Papers presented at the ASA Annual Meeting are typically working papers that have not yet been published in peer-reviewed journals. 

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