How Moments Become Movements

Professor Dominic Johnson's team on the new Oxford Martin School Natural Governance programme has produced its first publication: How Moments Become Movements: Shared Outrage, Group Cohesion, and the Lion That Went Viral.

The paper is a multidisciplinary collaboration with Prof Harvey Whitehouse, Dr Michael Buhrmester and Dr Oliver Curry (Oxford's Anthropology department); Prof David Macdonald and Dr Dawn Burnham (Zoology); and Prof Johnson (DPIR).

Prof Johnson, Co-Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Natural Governance, received a DPhil from Oxford University in evolutionary biology, and a PhD from Geneva University in political science. Drawing on both disciplines, he is interested in how new research on evolution, biology and human nature is challenging theories of international relations, conflict, and cooperation. His latest book, God is Watching You: How the Fear of God Makes Us Human (Oxford University Press, 2015), examines the role of religion in the evolution of cooperation, and how cross-culturally ubiquitous and ancient beliefs in supernatural punishment have helped to overcome major challenges of human society.

The Oxford Martin School is a world-leading centre of pioneering research that addresses the most pressing global challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century. Each research programme brings together academics from more than one field to create the collaboration needed for studying and tackling complex global issues. With more than 20 programmes, subjects are as diverse as the future of the global food system, geo-engineering, human rights of future generations and innovation in healthcare.



Can moments of viral media activity transform into enduring activist movements? The killing of Cecil the lion by a trophy hunter in Zimbabwe in 2015 attracted global attention and generated enduring conservation activism in the form of monetary donations to the research unit that was studying him (WildCRU). Utilizing a longitudinal survey design, we found that intensely dysphoric reactions to Cecil's death triggered especially strong social cohesion (i.e., “identity fusion”) amongst donors. Over a 6-month period, identity fusion to WildCRU increased amongst donors. In addition, in line with an emerging psychological model of the experiential antecedents of identity fusion, cohesion amongst donors increased most for those who continued to reflect deeply on Cecil's death and felt his death to be a central event in their own lives. Our results highlight the profound capabilities of humans to commit resources to supporting others who are distant in space and time, unrelated culturally or biologically, and even (as in this case) belonging to another species altogether. In addition, our findings add to recent interdisciplinary work uncovering the precise social mechanisms by which intense group cohesion develops.

Professor Dominic Johnson is Alastair Buchan Chair of International Relations, Co-Director of the Oxford Martin School "Natural Governance" Programme