The Social Psychology of Veganism – Decision Paralysis


Decision paralysis occurs when there is simply too much choice. People become overloaded, and, thus, make no decision at all (Heath and Heath 2010). Less choice is actually better than more choice (Swartz 2004). Consider one experiment in which one in-store display provided samples of a few jams, while another displayed many jams. When customers had too many jams to pick from, they were less likely to purchase. It was too hard to come to a decision.

What is more, the availability of alternatives means that those decisions that are made tend to be less satisfying due to the tendency to look back on “what could have been.” It’s hard to fully appreciate that strawberry jam when the blueberry, huckleberry, and blackberry jams are still hanging over one’s shoulder.

This information is particularly damning for how Nonhuman Animal rights is typically framed.  In an article I published in Food, Culture & Society, I argue that professionalized Nonhuman Animal rights groups offer way too much choice. At any given time, for example, PETA, Mercy for Animals, Compassion Over Killing, and Farm Sanctuary are offering ten or more campaigns for audiences to support. The reason they do this is probably to increase their fundraising, but it likely overloads their audiences to the point of inaction. Could the movement be more successful if it focused on veganism, the choice with the biggest impact?

Even on a smaller scale, vegan activists can prevent decision paralysis by practicing minimalism in tabling. Rather than loading up the display area with a litany of books, pamphlets, and fliers, keep it simple.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Condense available campaign choices
  • Condense available outreach material
  • Minimalize vegan recipe and product recommendations

References

C. Heath and D. Heath.  2010.  Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.  New York, NY:  Broadway Books.

Shwartz.  2004.  The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.  Harper Perennial.

Wrenn, C. 2013. “A Critique of Single-Issue Campaigning and the Importance of Comprehensive Abolitionist Vegan Advocacy.”  Food, Culture & Society 16 (4): 251-668.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.

Comments Off on The Social Psychology of Veganism – Decision Paralysis

Filed under Essays

The Social Psychology of Veganism – Gendered Helping

Social psychology finds that social norms will determine helping behaviors, but social norms certainly vary across genders in Western society. Dangerous situations or those involving strangers are more likely to elicit help from men than women, for instance (Eagly and Crowley 1986). This is not only a result of men and women’s different socialization experiences, but also due to the reality that women are disproportionately victimized by violence, which necessitates that they be wary in many situations.

In less dangerous situations, however, women are slightly more likely to help and to act selflessly (Becker and Eagly 2004). Women tend to respond with greater empathy and to devote more time to helping (George et al. 1998). These tendencies relate to longheld social expectations that women be care-takers and highly relational.

Gendered helping is clearly evident in activism for other animals. Activism that is seen as dangerous, risky, and heroic–namely illegal direct action–is disproportionately undertaken by men. The Animal Liberation Front (ALF), for instance, is dominated by men and engages in activity that risks severe legal sanctions (Hall 2006). The necessary and practical groundwork of Nonhuman Animal advocacy, however, that which requires prolonged helping, is largely undertaken by women.

As much as 80% of the animal rights movement today is female (Gaarder 2011), and this feminization is rooted in a conscious effort by earlier activists to embed gender into social norms about helping. Traditionally confined to the domestic sphere, Victorian women were actually able to exploit the “natural nurturer” stereotypes attached to them as justification for their involvement in animal rights advocacy. This concession was necessary in a time when social activism was deemed unladylike.

Unfortunately, prevailing gender inequality has ensured that masculine helping tends to garner more prestige than feminine helping. ALF enjoys a certain celebrity in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, and if not outright condoned, their actions are at least tolerated. Meanwhile, the everyday drudgery work undertaken by the female majority goes largely unappreciated despite women’s more enduring contributions. Masculine gender norms, while favorable to an activist’s status in a patriarchal world, can be particularly detrimental to men as well. Not only does engaging in illegal activity leave men susceptible to enormous restitution fees or prison sentences, but the violence celebrated within the militant movement is also toxic for men’s mental and physical well-being.

 

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Acknowledge that women’s ability to help can be inhibited by sexism and misogyny
  • Celebrate and acknowledge women’s contributions
  • Challenge hypermasculine tactics


References

Becker, S. and A. Eagly.  2004.  “The Heroism of Women and Men.”  American Psychologist 59:  163-178.

Eagly, A. and M. Crowley.  1986.  “Gender and Helping Behavior:  A Meta-Analytic Review of the Social Psychological Literature.”  Psychological Bulletin 100:  283-308.

Gaarder, E.  2011.  Women and the Animal Rights Movement.  New Brunswick, NJ:  Rutgers University Press.

George, D., P. Carroll, R. Kersnick, K. Calderon.  1998.  “Gender-Related Patterns of Helping Among Friends.”  Psychology of Women Quarterly 22:  685-704.

Hall, L.  2006.  Capers in the Churchyard:  Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Terror.  Nectar Bat Press.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.

Comments Off on The Social Psychology of Veganism – Gendered Helping

Filed under Essays

The Social Psychology – Haste

Whether or not an individual is in a hurry will determine their likelihood of helping. In one study, Darley and Batson (1973) presented an experimental group with a lecture on the importance of being a Good Samaritan, while the control group was given no talk on helping. Participants were then told to attend another meeting in a building nearby. In doing so, they would pass a research confederate in a situation of need. Interestingly, whether or not the participant had received a Good Samaritan lecture prior to passing the confederate did not predict if they would stop to help. Neither did personal religiosity. What actually predicted if the person would stop to help was if they were in a hurry or not. Some participants were told they had plenty of time to reach the next meeting; some were told they were already late. Those who thought they were late were too focused on reaching their destination to notice much else, unlike those participants with time to spare.

These findings have several implications for advocacy on behalf of other animals.  First, it highlights an innate tendency for humans to want to help, a tendency that is independent of priming (although priming does usually help) (Beaman et al. 1978) and religious affiliation. This tendency is reflected in the norm of social responsibility. People often help because it is expected of them, even when no one is watching or if that help is anonymous.

Secondly, research on haste suggests that activists should tailor their vegan outreach to account for levels of audience busyness. While the popular tactic of leafletting on college campuses has its usefulness in hitting large, receptive crowds, many of those crowds are composed of hurried students rushing to their next class. Activists should be strategic in targetting zones where people are more likely to be milling around with free time, such as bus stops, fairs, and lines.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Avoid targeting busy people
  • Seek out audiences with the time to pay attention

References

Beaman, A., P. Barnes, B. Klentz, B. McQuirk.  1978.  “Increasing Helping Rates Through Information Dissemination:  Teaching Pays.”  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 4:  406-411.

Darley, J. and C. Batson.  1973.  “From Jerusalem to Jericho:  A Study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior.”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 27:  100-108.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.

Comments Off on The Social Psychology – Haste

Filed under Essays

The Social Psychology of Veganism – In-group Bias

In-group bias refers to “us” versus “them” group mentality that predominates in human societies. Occupying an in-group is important for self esteem, identity, community, and safety. Just as individuals favor themselves, they tend to favor their in-group as an extension of themselves. Out-groups, the natural result of in-group construction, emerge so that there will be a “them” to help define the “us.” Social psychologists have confirmed that in-group bias (the favoring of “us”) leads individuals to be more empathetic and helpful to those in their in-group.

The in-group bias usually entails a puffing up of the in-group and a systematic belittling of the out-group. The problem is that creating differences usually leads to the creation of a hierarchy of worth. “Separate but equal,” as history has repeatedly demonstrated, is a fallacy. If an in-group is particularly powerful and the out-group is particularly vulnerable, outsiders can become seriously disadvantaged.

While some literature recognizes that culture and class easily elicit in-group bias, the literature on racial in-group bias is mixed (race is not always consequential). How might it apply to human/nonhuman relationships? Activists can certainly point to a long cultural history of otherizing Nonhuman Animals. Human beings have carved for themselves one large species-based in-group, whereby all others who occupy the out-group of “nonhuman” are viewed as lesser-than. Humanity’s in-group bias has supported unimaginable structural violence on all manner of nonhuman species. This bias discourages humans from considering the interests of other animals deemed “outsiders.”

For this reason, many vegan theorists and activists struggle to expand in-group boundaries to include other animals by reframing the group as one based in sentience rather than cognitive abilities or physical similarities. If humans are able to acknowledge human/nonhuman similarities (which easily outnumber the dissimilarities), the in-group bias should kick in to encourage humans to offer greater assistance to their fellow sentients. This may seem far-fetched, but research has demonstrated that race can sometimes resist the in-group bias. There is every reason to believe that species barriers can be overcome as well.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Challenge notions that Nonhuman Animals are especially different from humans
  • Highlight similarities in sentience

References

Emswiller, T., K. Deaux, and J. Willits.  1971.  “Similarity, Sex, and Requests for Small Favors.”  Journal of Applied Social Psychology 1:  284-291.

Miller, P. J. Kozu, and A. Davis.  2001.  “Social Influence, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior in Cross-Cultural  Perspective.”  In W. Wosinka, R. Cialdini, D. Barrett, and J. Reykowski (Eds.), The Practice of Social Influence in Multiple Cultures.  Mahwah, NJ:  Erlbaum.

Myers, D. 2013. Social Psychology, 11th ed. McGraw Hill.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.

Comments Off on The Social Psychology of Veganism – In-group Bias

Filed under Essays

The Social Psychology of Veganism – Social Responsibility Norm

The norm of social responsibility finds that people will help even when there is no expectation of reciprocation and even when that help remains anonymous. There are two stipulations, however. First, the person or group needing help must be perceived as unable to control their circumstances, and, second, the situation must be one that garners sympathy.

That social responsibility is a shared norm is good news for social movements everywhere, but particularly so for vegan activists, as the heavy work invested into advancing the interests of other animals often has limited returns. However, vegans can increase participation by engaging the social responsibility norm. This can by highlighting how other animals are truly victims with very little control over their circumstances. Recall a previous article on the just-world phenomenon, humans tend to blame victims, meaning that Nonhuman Animals are often framed as “stupid,” ugly, hateful, or otherwise deserving of their exploitation and death. Countering these stereotypes by restoring personhood to these animals should thus be prioritized.

Secondly, arousing sympathy is necessary to evoke the social responsibility norm. Restoring Nonhuman Animal personhood is a major step in accomplishing this, but activists should also not shy completely from describing conditions (even “humane” conditions) experienced by Nonhuman Animals hurt by human supremacy. The utilization of emotion is immensely useful in mobilizing activists, and surely this is related to how narratives, photographs, and images can elicit sympathy. Keep in mind, however, that a message too heavily reliant on emotion might only be useful in creating superficial, short-lived change. For this reason, mindfully partnering emotional appeals with rational appeals should be most successful.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Create a feeling of social responsibility
  • Emphasize that Nonhuman Animals are unable to help themselves
  • Use descriptions of suffering to garner sympathy
  • Counter negative stereotypes about other animals

References

Berkowitz, L.  1972.  “Social Norms, Feelings, and Other Factors Affecting Helping and Altruism.”  In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 6).  New York:  Academic Press.

Rudolph, U., S. Roesch, T. Greitenmeyer, B. Weiner.  2004.  “A Meta-Analytic Review of Help-Giving and Aggression From an Attributional Perspective:  Contributions to a General Theory of Motivation.”  Cognition and Emotion 18:  815-848.

Schwartz, S.  1975.  “The Justice of Need and the Activation of Humanitarian Norms.”  Journal of Social Issues 31 (3):  111-136.

Shotland, R. and C. Stebbins.  1983.  “Emergency and Cost as Determinants of Helping Behavior and the Slow Accumulation of Social Psychological Knowledge.” Social Psychology Quarterly 46:  36-46.

Weiner, B.  1980.  “A Cognitive (Attribution)-Emotion-Action Model of Motivated Behavior:  An Analysis of Judgements of Help-Giving.”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39:  186-200.

 

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.

Comments Off on The Social Psychology of Veganism – Social Responsibility Norm

Filed under Essays

The Social Psychology of Veganism – Reciprocity Norm

The reciprocity norm suggests that people are likely to help those who have helped them in the past.  The feeling of reciprocity can be increased if the relationship is a sustained one, and, it can still occur even when the help is given anonymously.

The vegan activist special offering cupcakes for conversations is an excellent example of how to engage the reciprocity norm. If someone is given a cupcake, they will feel obligated to return the favor by lending an ear. Nonprofits that send out stationary or calendars in hopes of soliciting donations in return also improve the help they receive by offering these freebies first.

Reciprocity has its limits. Not everyone has the ability to reciprocate adequately or at all. Activists should be careful to utilize this technique only in ways that will not threaten the self-esteem of the recipients. Research finds that older persons can become resentful if they believe they are being patronized, for instance. Offers and subsequent expectations should be relatively modest.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Give a little, get a little
  • Don’t apply this norm to those who can’t reciprocate, it may backfire

References

Burger, J., J. Sanchez, J. Imberi, and L. Grande. 2009.  “The Norm of Reciprocity as an Internalized Social Norm:  Returning Favors Even When No One Finds Out.”  Social Influence 4:  11-17.

Gouldner, A.  1960.  “The Norm of Reciprocity:  A Preliminary Statement.”  American Sociological Review 25:  161-178.

Myers, D. 2013. Social Psychology, 11th ed. McGraw Hill.

Nadler, A. and J. Fisher. 1986.  “The Role of Threat to Self-Esteem and Perceived Control in Recipient Reaction to Help:  Theory Development and Empirical Validation.”  In I. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 19).  Orlando, FL:  Academic Press.

Newsom, J.  1999.  “Another Side to Caregiving:  Negative Reactions to Being Helped.”  Institute on Aging.  Portland State University.

 


 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.

Comments Off on The Social Psychology of Veganism – Reciprocity Norm

Filed under Essays

The Social Psychology of Veganism – Door-in-the-Face

The door-in-the-face phenomenon suggests that, if one makes an over-the-top request that is likely to be denied and then counters with a more reasonable request, audiences will be much more likely to agree to the second request.

Psychologist Robert Cialdini and his colleagues were able to demonstrate the effectiveness of door-in-the-face by asking participants to agree to two years of volunteer work and then followed up asking for a lesser commitment. The first request of two years was predictably refused, but the second request was more successful. Over 50% more people agreed to the smaller concession in the group that was first presented with the large request than the comparison groups that received only the small request. The researchers also indicate that the second request need not be that small, but only smaller by comparison to the first.

It is thought that people will be more likely to concede to this smaller request in order to relieve the pressure of social norms. Consequently, the requester does not have to personally know the individuals in their audience in order for this technique to be effective.

Welfare reformers in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement might decide that asking their audience first to go vegan (expecting a rejection) and then asking them to reduce consumption (a smaller concession) might be a good application of this theory.  However, recall that it is not how small the followup request is that is important, only that it is smaller.  Therefore, vegan activists might first ask interested parties to become an activist and begin volunteering (a potentially overwhelming lifestyle decision that might put off some), but then counter with a request that they simply go vegan, ease into veganism over the course of a few weeks, or, perhaps, commit to signing up for a vegan newsletter.

Cialdini and his colleagues tested this effect in face-to-face interactions, so it is likely that the door-in-the-face method would apply well to vegan tabling, teaching, or lecturing. The fact that personal familiarity did not reduce effectiveness is also promising for those advocating veganism to the public. It is unclear, however, if this technique would work as well in online advocacy.


For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Start with a large request, then follow it up with a smaller request
  • Second request can be substantial as long as it is smaller than the first
  • Does not require personal acquaintanceship to work

 

References

Cialadini, R. et al.  1975.  “Reciprocal Concessions Procedure for Inducing Compliance:  The Door-in-the-Face Technique.”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 31:  206-215.

 


 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.

Comments Off on The Social Psychology of Veganism – Door-in-the-Face

Filed under Essays

The Social Psychology of Veganism – Just-World Phenomenon

The just-world phenomenon asserts that people, to protect their peace of mind, tend to believe that bad things happen only to those who deserve it. This phenomenon surfaced in Nazi Germany where Jews were blamed for the violence they endured. Similarly, survivors of rape are often blamed for the assault and asked to account for their own behavior. Some have even rationalized that the gay community solicited the AIDS epidemic as a result of its “sinfulness.”

The flip side of this concept is that those who enjoy a privileged position may feel confident that they deserve their success. The just-world phenomenon discourages an acknowledgement of substantial, unearned privileges that create most wealth, including being born of wealthy parents, living in a safe neighborhood, attending well-funded schools, and so on.

This does not bode well for Nonhuman Animal rights activists. Audiences are likely to believe that other animals deserve their speciesist treatment. This block against empathy is a difficult barrier to overcome. Nonhuman Animals are frequently dismissed as “dumb,” “dirty,” “uncooperative,” and “ungrateful.” Audiences may also claim that a higher power created other animals to be human resources, and, thus, nonhumans willingly fulfill this divinely-sanctioned role in providing their bodies and labor. Likewise, the Suicide Food blog documents hundreds of advertisements produced by the food industry in which victims appear to be delighted by their own torture and death. Subsequently, audiences need not acknowledge that exploiting other animals is wrong, as victims are portrayed as willing and deserving participants.

Complicating matters is the feeling of entitlement that privileged humans often harbor. Remember that the just-world phenomenon encourages humans to think that bad things happen to those who deserve it, but also that good things happen to good people who deserve it. This explains the biased construction of food chains and evolutionary charts which frequently place human beings at the top. This superiority is believed to have been earned as a result of cunning and skill. Some believe this hierarchy is divinely sanctioned. In any case, it is a privilege believed to be deserved. The tendency for humans to blame victims and see privilege as deserved will be a particularly difficult hurdle for activists to overcome.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Challenge victim-blaming
  • Highlight that other animals are not willing participants
  • Challenge individualistic understandings of oppression; focus on systems

References

Carli L. et al. 1999. “Cognitive Reconstruction, Hindsight, and Reactions to victims and Perpetrators.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 25: 966-979.

Imhoff, R. and R. Banse. 2009. “Ongoing Victim Suffering Increases Prejudice: The Case of Secondary Anti-Semitism.” Psychological Science 20: 1443-1447.

Lerner, M. 1980. The Belief in a Just World: A Fundamental Delusion. New York: Plenum.

 


 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.

Comments Off on The Social Psychology of Veganism – Just-World Phenomenon

Filed under Essays

The Social Psychology of Veganism – Selective Exposure

Frustrated activists often lament that audiences simply do not want to listen to them. “I just don’t want to know!” is a commonly-heard refrain. They will not be surprised to learn that social psychology supports this observation.

Researchers have found that most people rely on a system of selective exposure in which they seek out and pay attention to information that supports their preexisting views. As Sweeny et al. (2010) describe, “…people often opt to remain ignorant.” The worry is that this deliberate close-mindedness will impact sound decision-making and hinder social movement success.

According to these researchers, a multitude of personality traits interact to influence a person’s tendency toward selective exposure. For instance, some engage information as a coping mechanism; while others ignore information as a coping mechanism. Likewise, some people are more comfortable with uncertainty than others. Ease of obtaining and interpreting information, as well as the amount of control a person feels over the consequences of that information are also critical.

Therefore, sensitivity to individual characteristics is important for activists. Personal dispositions of audience members are largely outside of an activist’s control, but veganism can be presented as an attainable and viable alternative. Information about the transition to veganism should be easy to access and a variety of strategies for achieving this transition should be provided to reduce the potential for selection bias to surface.

Hart et al. (2009) found that selection bias was highest when it was relevant to accomplishing a goal. For instance, a nonvegan person wishing to lose weight may seek out diets that affirm their flesh-based consumption patterns, such as the Atkin’s Diet. This bias can be reduced if an individual’s attitudes are supported prior to their seeking information, but only if their attitudes are not strongly held or relevant to their values.

For instance, an activist may acknowledge that switching to a plant-based diet will mean forgoing traditional “meat” and dairy fare and offer some tempting alternatives to prevent selection bias from emerging. Activists must also be strategic in their timing, and may gear up for food-centered holidays when people are likely to start thinking about seeking information on their diet. Planning ahead for New Year’s when resolutions are made and information is sought would be another wise strategy.

Other inhibiting factors that activist should be aware of include the individual’s level of close-mindedness and confidence in their attitudes. Those who are particularly confident may not feel threatened by exposure to opposing information and are consequently less likely to exhibit information avoidance. Strength of attitude, it turns out, is not as influential to resistance as is the existence of a particular goal.

If that goal includes harm to other animals, persuasion may be difficult. The Bill and Lou controversy is an excellent example of this phenomenon. Bill and Lou were two oxen that labored for years in the agricultural program at Green Mountain College in Vermont. As they grew older and were no longer economically useful, the university decided to slaughter the pair. Publically, it claimed to encourage an open discourse on this decision, but the onslaught of opposing information that the university quickly received from horrified animal allies did little to sway the decision. Instead, the college selectively exposed itself to information that touted human supremacism and sustainability, information which supported its determined goal to kill Bill and Lou.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Avoid selective exposure tendencies by using two-sided appeals
  • Make information easily accessible
  • Provide alternative strategies for goal attainment
  • Employ persuasive appeals before the audience begins the process of information seeking
  • Avoid selective exposure by targeting audiences without strong preexisting attitudes about speciesism

References

Fischer, P. and T. Greitemeyer. 2010. “A New Look at Selective-Exposure Effects: An Integrative Model.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 19: 384-389.

Hart, W., D. Albarracin, A. Eagly, I. Brechan, M. Lindberg, and L. Merrill. 2009. “Feeling Validated Versus Being Correct: A Meta-Analysis of Selective Exposure to Information.” Psychological Bulletin 135: 555-588.

Sweeny, K., D. Melnyk, W. Miller, J. Shepperd. 2010. “Information Avoidance: Who, What, When, and Why.” Review of General Psychology 14: 340-353.

 

 


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.

Comments Off on The Social Psychology of Veganism – Selective Exposure

Filed under Essays

The Social Psychology of Veganism – Opinion Leaders

Social psychological research on the absorption of media indicates that media frequently operates in a two-step flow. Media first hits opinion leaders and then disseminates to friends, family, colleagues, and others. Messages become popular as they are filtered through popular people.

Consider the Girls Intelligence Agency, for example, which targets popular preteen girls, sending them boxes of products to test on their friends at parties and sleepovers. Oprah is another good example. Having a product featured on Oprah is a near guarantee that sales will skyrocket, a phenomenon known as the “Oprah Effect.” Popular preteens and Oprah are effective persuaders because they are trendsetters. Audiences will seek to emulate their attitudes and behaviors.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has long exploited the effect of opinion leaders in soliciting celebrities to endorse animal welfare messages. Many cannot help but get excited when influential celebrities like talk show hosts Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah go vegan (if only temporarily) and promote veganism to their audiences.

Of course, many of these celebrity endorsements are seriously problematic. During her brief stint with veganism, Ellen remained the face of CoverGirl, a company that sells products made from the flesh of other animals and also tests on other animals. Most of the celebrities featured in PETA advertisements are not vegan either. Yet, while opinion leaders often fall short of a clear vegan message, their influence cannot be underestimated. As more and more trendsetters go vegan, they both encourage and normalize veganism.

Activists would do well to invest in media, specifically aiming to influence the influentials. Beyond the media sphere, real world networks count, too. Sociological research supports that individuals are more likely to go vegan if they have others in their social networks who are vegan. These networks normalize veganism and ease the transition for newcomers.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Encourage well-known people to promote the message
  • Facilitate supportive networks to normalize veganism and prevent recidivism

References

Cherry, E. 2003. “‘It’s Not Just a Diet’: Identity, Commitment, and Social Networks in Vegans.” MA Thesis, University of Georgia.

Katz, E. 1957. “The Two-Step Flow of Communication: An Up-to-Date Report on a Hypothesis.” Public Opinion Quarterly 21: 61-78.

Keller, E. and B. Berry. 2003. The Influential: One American in Ten Tells the Other Nine How to Vote, Where to Eat, and What to Buy. New York: Free Press.

 


 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.

Comments Off on The Social Psychology of Veganism – Opinion Leaders

Filed under Essays