The globe holds plenty of reasons to take to the streets, yet would-be protesters seldom act on their grievances. What stirs people out of their passivity and into action? After revisiting 182 previous studies of some 15,000 people, social psychologist Martijn van Zomeren and his colleagues find that people’s social identities—that is, their attachment and commitment to their groups—are what drive them to protest.

“If you can build the sense among people that they are part of a group, then...

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