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Many organizations and small groups operate campaigns to promote veganism but most of the strategy is based on what they think will work.
There is very little evidence on what actually works.
Do campaigns that focus on the worst conditions in factory farms encourage people to become vegan or to buy free-range, organic meat?
There are plenty of anecdotal stories about people who became vegan after seeing a campaign but how many people were put off veganism by that same campaign? We tend to believe the feedback we like and conveniently overlook what doesn’t fit our plans.
There has been much academic research on behaviour change to promote healthy lifestyles or environmentally-friendly behavior, but not much specifically focusing on veganism.
It was good to see The Vegan Society commission research b yEdge Hill University’s Centre for Human Animal Studies. So often research is just an isolated project which often raises a lot of further questions which are left unanswered.
One of the conclusions of this project was that non-vegans were more receptive to health messages about veganism than to environmental or ethics messages.
Focusing strategy on health messages could be risky. Would this strengthen self-interest values?
Schwartz proposed the Theory of Individual HumanValues (1) which suggests that all humans possess the same set of values but in different proportions and they can vary over time.
For example, conformity avoids upsetting others and conforms with social norms and traditions, whereas universalism involves the appreciation and protection of all humans and nature.
If self-interest values increase then universalism values decrease. If focus is on personal health will people eat whatever is promoted as healthy such as oily fish? Or would this be a means to achieving an initial interest in veganism and ethical issues could then be gradually introduced?
Should veganism be promoted as part of a wider social justice agenda opposing all forms of exploitation of humans, non-human animals and the environment? There is some evidence that people are more likely to adhere to a behavior change if they have a number of reasons to reinforce that behaviour change.
Is there conflict within the universalism value between equality for all versus tolerance of other opinions? For example, protecting the rights of nomadic pastoralists vs the rights of non-human animals.
We should also consider whether competitions, special offers, and celebrity endorsements also strengthen self-interest.
Kathleen Vohs has conducted many years of research on Money Priming (2) which has been shown to change people’s thoughts, feelings, motivations and behaviours.
Money priming experiments (totalling 165 to date, from 18 countries) point to at least two major effects. First, compared to neutral primes, people reminded of money are less interpersonally attuned. They are not prosocial, caring, or warm. Could some of our fund-raising activities to promote veganism be inadvertently making people less caring?
The slogan ‘meat is murder’ has often been used in campaigns. Casey Taft, the clinical psychologist, states: “We will not be successful in our advocacy if we accuse others of being ‘murderers’, ‘rapists’, or any other derogatory term, because this will only increase resistance.” (3)
Feinberg’s research: Understanding the Process of Moralization: How Eating Meat Becomes a Moral Issue (4), investigates the process by which something that was morally neutral takes on moral properties – examining what factors facilitate and deter it. They raise the issue of moral piggy backing (connecting the issue at hand with one’s existing fundamental moral principles).
The research also warns direct and intense moral appeals can work on some people, but backfire on others.
So encouraging people to reflect on their opposition tothe murder of humans while continuing to exploit other animals could be auseful strategy if presented in a way that does not make people defensive, but we don’t currently have the evidence to be sure.
Even small changes to the way a statement is worded can make a significant difference to behavior.
An experiment involving hotel guests provides an illustration. Half the guests had signs in their bathrooms with a message about how reusing towels could benefit the environment.
The other half had the same sign but with an extra message stating that most hotel guests reused their towels at least once during their stay. Guests exposed to the additional message were 26 percent more likely to reuse their towels.(5) Although further studies have produced inconsistent results. (6)
Are there simple changes we could be making to the wordingof our campaigns that could create a more positive response?
Supporting people through change such as with buddy schemes and pledges has been shown to be successful. There have been some assessments of the level of success but the survey response has typically been about 20 to 25 percent.
The number of people staying vegan has then been extrapolated but is that a reasonable assumption? Did the 75 percent who did not respond give up on the vegan diet or were they just too busy in the kitchen making new vegan dishes to have time to complete a survey?
Then there is the question of why people lapse from veganism. What is the effect of personal life (partner, marriage, babies, employment, finance, caring responsibilities, bereavement, divorce, health, relocation, changing social group of friends) on the continuing commitment to veganism?
If there is wide availability of vegan food and products in a particular location does this normalize veganism and increase its uptake?
One strategy to promote veganism will not work for everyone
Obviously, we are all different in the way we think and are at different stages in our journey of awareness to an ethical lifestyle.
One person will read an instruction manual from start to finish before taking a new piece of equipment out of the box while another will throw the instructions to one side and start playing with the controls to understand how it works. Will the second person read a detailed argument on speciesism?
Brain scans of vegans and omnivores (7) have shown differences in the way they respond to animal suffering, are these differences present at birth or do they develop over time
How do we identify groups of people who will respond to a carefully tailored message? How do we then target the appropriate message to the appropriate group?
I have given just a few examples to illustrate an extremely complex subject. There are huge numbers of unanswered questions.
Do we continue to risk wasting money on campaigns and hope they will work or do we invest time and money in high quality research by suitably qualified professionals?
You may ask why spend money on research when the interest in veganism is increasing? Don’t forget that the consumption of non-human animals across the world is also increasing as well as the many other forms of animal exploitation for clothing, safety testing, medical research and in the name of sport.
The animal exploiting companies are spending plenty of money to keep people buying their products.
I suggest we need a research fund and a planned program of research projects to guide us towards the best practice.
This would not be quick or cheap but organizations and individuals who share a common goal could contribute what they can. A range of experts would be required, including psychologists, sociologists, statisticians, cognitive linguists and population survey specialists.?
There are researchers ready to take on this challenge when the funds are available.
The fund would need to be managed by a reputable organization to reassure donors that the money was well spent. The researchers would need to explain the questions they aim to answer with details such as the number of participants and how they are recruited.
There needs to be a sample that is representative of the general population, that is not self-selecting and large enough to provide statistically significant data. There needs to be the option for follow-up studies to deal with ambiguous or puzzling results and to monitor change overtime.
The emphasis must be on ways to end all forms of exploitation of animals for any purpose.
I would certainly donate to this fund and I have already left a legacy in my Will to fund this type of research, are there enough people willing to join me to make this a reality
1.Basic Human Values
Shalom H. Schwartz
The Hebrew University ofJerusalem
Refining the Theory of BasicIndividual Values
Shalom H. Schwartz
Hebrew University of Jerusalemand National Research
University–Higher School of Economics
Jan Cieciuch, Michele Vecchione,Eldad Davidov, Ronald Fischer,
Constanze Beierlein, AliceRamos, MarkkuVerkasalo, Jan-Erik Lo¨nnqvist,
Kursad Demirutku, OzlemDirilen-Gumus and Mark Konty.
2. Money Priming Can Change People’s Thoughts,Feelings, Motivations,
and Behaviors: An Update on 10Years of Experiments
Kathleen D. Vohs
University of Minnesota, Journalof Experimental Psychology: General
Merely Activating the Concept of Money ChangesPersonal and Interpersonal Behavior
Kathleen D.Vohs, Nicole L. Mead, and Miranda R. Goode, Association for PsychologicalScience Volume 17—Number 3.
3. Casey T. Taft, Motivational Methods for VeganAdvocacy, Vegan Publishers.
4. Feinberg, M., Kovacheff, C., Teper, R., &Inbar, Y. (2019, March 14). Understanding the Process of Moralization: HowEating Meat Becomes a Moral Issue. Journal of Personality and SocialPsychology.
5. Goldstein N, Martin S and Cialdini R (2017), Yes!60 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion, Profile, London.
6. Bayesian Evidence Synthesis Can ReconcileSeemingly Inconsistent
Results: The Case of HotelTowel Reuse
Benjamin Scheibehenne, TahiraJamil, and Eric-Jan Wagenmakers
Psychological Science 2016,Vol. 27(7) 1043–1046
7. Filippi M, Riccitelli G, Falini A, Di Salle F,Vuilleumier P, et al. (2010) The Brain Functional Networks Associated to Humanand Animal Suffering Differ
among Omnivores,Vegetarians and Vegans. PLoS ONE 5(5): e10847. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010847