Predictors of Activism and Radicalism: past activism, past radicalism and grievance against the government.

Download data and study materials from OSF

Principal investigator:

Clark McCauley

Bryn Mawr College



Sample size: 429

Field period: 12/20/2006-01/02/2007


The study aimed to test the relationship between grievance and activism and radicalism. Participants were randomly divided into two experimental conditions: either questions about past and future intention to engage in activism-radicalism first, followed by questions about any grievance against the US government; or grievance questions came first, followed by questions about activism and radicalism. Those with a grievance were more likely to have a history of both activist and radical behavior, and to report intention to engage in activism in the future, comparing to those who did not have a grievance. Intentions to commit radical acts were predicted by personal grievance, but not group grievance. Making personal grievance salient had no affect on either past or future activism or radicalism. However, making group grievance salient enhanced individual intention to engage in future activist behaviors. None of the demographic variables, including age, gender, level of education, and race were related to measures of activism or radicalism.


a. We expected to find that past behaviors, either activist or radical, are predictive of intentions for future activism and radicalism
b. We wondered whether reminding people of their grievance is capable to push them farther in their radical tendencies than they would be otherwise
c. We predicted that those who experienced the grievance items first would score higher on activism and radicalism scales than those who experienced them second.
d. We wanted to explore some factors that can predict the degree to which an individual is already radicalized, such as demographic variables, group identification and self-esteem

Experimental Manipulations

In the experimental group, participants were asked to answer grievance questions first, thereby priming effects of grievance, which was followed by activism-radicalism questions; in the control group, grievance questions came after activism-radicalism questions.


a. activism intention
b. radicalism intention

Summary of Results

a. We found that one’s past activism is a good predictor of future activist activity. On the other hand, a personal history of radical acts is not the best predictor of future radicalism. Instead, it is intention to engage in activist activity in the future that is most correlated with future radical intention.
b. We found that having either a personal or a group grievance was predictive of both past activism-radicalism and of future activism. However, when it came to future radical intention, reported group grievance was not predictive of it, while personal grievance was.
c. We tested the affect of placing questions about grievance before questions about activism-radicalism, thus making grievance salient for some our participants, but not others. We found that grievance salience was effective in enhancing only future activist intention, and only when it was a personal grievance.
d. None of the demographic variables were related to measures of activism or radicalism.


The experimental results in this pilot test indicate that raising the salience of grievance can increase readiness of political action. The survey paradigm introduced here can provide an experimental testbed for learning how to decrease the salience of grievance and how to decrease the link between grievance and political action. Perhaps most important, this testbed may help us understand why so few with radical grievances are prepared for radical action.


Moskalenko, S., and C. McCauley. 2009. "Measuring political mobilization: The distinction between activism and radicalism." Terrorism and Political Violence 21:239-260.
Moskalenko (2007). Activist and radical intentions: Past behaviors and grievances. National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (NC-START) annual conference in College Park, MD.