Intergroup images mediate the relationships between government abuse, sociopolitical orientations, and political action

Erin M. Kearns, Christopher Federico, Victor Asal, James Igoe Walsh, Allison E. Betus, Anthony F. Lemieux

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What factors impact how people mobilize against state human rights abuses? Drawing on Image Theory, we examine how perceptions of an out-group, government abuse, and sociopolitical orientations impact political action. Using an online survey-embedded experiment with a sample of 2,932 U.S. adults, we manipulated two factors: (1) the level of government abuse and (2) the risk of punishment for taking action against the state, while also including social dominance orientation (SDO) and right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) as covariates. Participants indicated their propensity to engage in and justify both protest and violence. Participants rated the out-group as oppressive and evil. State abuse of human rights was associated with more oppressive and evil out-group images. Oppressive out-group images increased protest engagement and justification, whereas evil out-group images increased violence engagement and justification. Abuse increased all forms of action and justifications for them. Oppressive and evil images mediated many of the relationships between abuse, SDO, and RWA on one hand and political action on the other.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-39
Number of pages23
JournalDynamics of Asymmetric Conflict: Pathways toward Terrorism and Genocide
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 16 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the United States Department of Homeland Security through the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), grant number N00140510629 awarded to Lemieux and Asal. However, any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect views of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Images
  • experiment
  • human rights abuse
  • political action
  • sociopolitical orientation


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