Disentangling Societal Discontent and Intergroup Threat: Explaining Actions Towards Refugees and Towards the State

Frank Gootjes*, Toon Kuppens, Tom Postmes, Ernestine Gordijn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
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In debates about migration in Western countries, citizens’ concerns about immigrant groups often go hand in hand with concerns about the decline of society as a whole. Societal discontent, however, is a distinct concept and may have its own relations with immigration attitudes, over and above the role of perceived immigrant threat. In a survey of a representative sample of Dutch people (N = 1239), we disentangled societal discontent from intergroup threat with respect to their relationship with different kinds of action intentions regarding refugees (both pro and anti) and intentions regarding the government. Unsurprisingly, societal discontent predicted support for anti-government protest (which was strikingly high). More importantly, societal discontent independently predicted both pro-refugee and anti-refugee action intentions, over and above intergroup threat. These associations were moderated by intergroup threat: only when refugees were experienced as a threat did discontent predict anti-refugee action intentions. On the other hand, societal discontent predicted more pro-refugee action intentions, but only when people experienced refugees as an enrichment. Thus, despite populist rhetoric, societal discontent is not always tied to anti-immigrant actions. This suggests that refugee sentiments and societal discontent are not exchangeable: societal discontent plays an important role in reactions to immigration.
Original languageEnglish
Article number8
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Review of Social Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29-Mar-2021


  • societal discontent
  • intergroup threat
  • refugees
  • protest
  • action intentions
  • anti-government

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