Home Institution

Washington University in St. Louis

Publication Date

Spring 2018

Program Name

Jordan: Geopolitics, International Relations, and the Future of the Middle East


Collective action and rational choice theory suggest that social movements suffer from a tragedy of the commons that incentivizes individuals against participation. The last several decades of increased youth-driven protests and demonstrations in the Middle East, however, suggest that these collective action barriers are being consistently overcome. I propose an addition to the rational choice basis of Olson’s collective action theory which incorporates social desires, and specifically peer pressure, as an observable individual incentive. Using a combination of interviews and vignette-style factorial surveys, I test this hypothesis to measure the effect of perceived peer pressure on the intention of students at the University of Jordan to participate in a hypothetical protest. Results indicate that knowledge of friends’ intention to participate creates an incentive unique from knowledge of the quantity of students attending. When University of Jordan students know they will have friends at a protest, their intended participation matches with their initial sympathy for the protest 20% more than scenarios in which they know that most or only a few students will attend. The greatest difference in sympathy and intended participation is observed when students are told very few people will attend. The results indicate that perceived peer pressure is not a strong enough incentive to convince students to join a protest that they do not sympathize with, and rather serves as an encouragement for students to act on their sympathies. Taken together, this data suggests that social desires offer some explanation for increasingly high participation rates of students and youth in the Middle East’s ongoing social movements.


Near and Middle Eastern Studies | Regional Sociology | Social Psychology


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