Category Archives: Essays

Happy People are Helping People

A number of variables can induce prosocial, helping behaviors. Mood is one such variable. According to the social psychological research, happy people are helpful people (Salovey et al. 1991). Folks may wish to help in order to get happy or to stay happy. Feeling good motivates a desire to spread that goodness. It can also increase positive thinking and self-esteem, which is further conducive to wanting to help.

Researchers have even found that inserting happy people into social situations can increase the propensity for people to be persuaded (Forgas and East 2008). Campaigners who employ a chipper mood themselves can also motivate others to be helpful.

Vegan activists can easily encourage constituents to be helpful to Nonhuman Animals by framing their campaigns with positivity and cheerfulness. The typical vegan campaigning which spotlights suffering and violence might actually discourage helping.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Keep a positive attitude
  • Insert chipper confederates into vegan protests and events
  • Frame campaigns so as to solicit happiness
  • Avoid negative, unmotivating themes of suffering

References

Forgas, J. and R. East. 2008. “On Being Happy and Gullible: Mood Effects on Skepticism and the Detection of Deception.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 44 (5): 1362-1367.

Salovey, P., Mayer, J., and Rosenhan, D. 1991. “Mood and Helping: Mood as a Motivator of Helping and Helping as a Regulator of Mood.” Review of Personality and Social Psychology 12: 215-237.

 


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Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Group Size and Aggression

Emotions in Society

Although emotions are individually experienced, they are often socially triggered. Emotions link humans with other humans (and other animals). This allows for important bonding, empathy, and cooperation.

Social movements find that emotions are very important for mobilizing protest, too (Jasper 1998). These sorts of emotions can include joy, excitement, fear, and even aggression. For activists interested in nurturing peace, it is worth understanding the mechanics of emotion in social spaces. This is particularly so when it comes to aggression since aggression can undermine social justice efforts.

Group Size and Aggression

Social movements do not only focus on the emotions of their own activists. They must also concern themselves with the emotions of constituents and countermovement participants. Just as joy or frustration may motivate folks into collective action, anger or aggression can manifest as resistance in the public. Essentially, in group settings, a mob-like effect can take hold as the presence of more people can increase aggressive tendencies (Mullen 1986). This explains aggression in gangs as well as in lynch mobs.

Protests that are intended to confront large groups of people could easily trigger this group-level aggression. This is why, for instance, the Charlottesville hate march so easily spiraled into aggressive conflict. Emotions are easily aroused by the presence of others. More importantly, the presence of others allows for the diffusion of responsibility.

Antisocial tendencies can, ironically, spike in social situations. Vegan protests that do not take into consideration the relationship between group size and aggression could run into trouble. Researchers find that, when prompted, individuals are much less likely to react with aggression than groups (Gaebelein and Mander 1978). Why? They feel they are personally responsible for any negative consequences.

Groups and Speciesism

The social psychological tendency for aggression to spike in group settings is also relevant to the wellbeing of Nonhuman Animals. Excessive violence against other animals in gruesome rituals such as “bullfighting,” “cockfighting,” “bearbaiting,” and “dogfighting,” for instance, is predictable based on the large presence of humans.

The power of groups on emotive, anti-social behavior can also be observed in shared food rituals (such as barbeques), entertainment (such as “horseracing”), and science (such as vivisection). Groups allow for the diffusion of responsibility. Groups also create a shared emotional experience that bonds the individual to the group and their behavior.

In addition to tailoring vegan protest to avoid confrontations with a group of emotionally-charged humans, vegans should tailor campaigns to help Nonhuman Animals avoid aggressive human groups as well. Vegan strategies that trigger social responsibility will be more successful than strategies that allow for constituents to diffuse responsibility amid the group.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Avoid large groups of people as protest targets to avoid mob-like response
  • The presence of large groups can be dangerous to Nonhuman Animals

References

Gaebelein, J. and A. Mander. 1978. “Consequences for Targets of Aggression as a Function of Aggressor and Instigator roles: Three Experiments.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 4 (3): 465-468.

Jasper, J. 1998. “The Emotions of Protest: Affective and Reactive Emotions In and Around Social Movements.” Sociological Forum 13 (3): 397-424.

Mullen, B. 1986. “Atrocity as a Function of Lynch Mob Composition.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 12 (2): 187-197.

 


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Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Egoism and Helping

Why Help?

What motivates people to help? Is it altruism, peer pressure, legal force, or simply egoism? The motivations for prosocial behavior are numerous, but generally, it behooves humans, a social species, to help. And so help we do. Altruism is useful for social solidarity, survival, and continuance. Social responsibility norms encourage it as a result.

All Ego?

Social movements, however, frequently appeal to self-interest, assuming that it will be ego, not altruism, that ultimately motivates a person to act. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement, for instance, appeals to the healthfulness of a plant-based diet at least as much as it appeals to social values of compassion. Sometimes, it also suggests to constituents that going vegan can bring with it greater personal peace. The Franz Kafka quote, for instance, has become a vegan trope:

But can appealing to self-interest and egoism really inspire more helping?

Traditionally, social psychologists argued that egoism determined helping behaviors. This theory suggests that behaving prosocially brings with it internal and external rewards for individuals (Batson 1987). For one, helping can reduce feelings of discomfort that might be more selfishly than altruistically motivated (Cialdini et al. 1987).

Altruism Motivates

Yet, not all social psychologists are convinced. After all, how can a person really know what internal rewards to expect without engaging the behavior first? Something else must be sparking that initial motivation. Furthermore, people will keep helping even after internal rewards have been reaped (Schroeder et al. 1988). As for external rewards, some people will help even when no one is watching (Fultz et al. 1986). Anonymous donors are an example of this.

Self-interest certainly has some effect, but the notion that egoism is the only determinant of human behavior is not scientifically sound. Vegan activists can safely ease off of egoist appeals to animal liberation and instead seek to trigger fundamental prosocial norms and altruistic tendencies in their communities.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Appeals to self-interest useful if participants are clear on rewards
  • Social pressure can increase helping
  • Genuine altruism can motivate, too

References

Batson, C. 1987. “Prosocial Motivation: Is it ever Truly Altruistic?Advances in Experimental Psychology 20: 65-122.

Cialdini, R., B. Schaller, M. Houlihan, D. Arps, K. Fultz, J. Beaman, and L. Arthur. 1987. “Empathy-based Helping: Is It Selflessly or Selfishly Motivated?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 52 (4): 749-758.

Fultz, J., C. Batson, D. Fortenbach, A. Victoria, P. McCarthy., L. Varney. 1986. “Social Evaluation and the Empathy-Altruism Hypothesis.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 50 (4): 761-769.

D. Schroeder, J. Dovidio, M Sibicky, L. Matthews, and J. Allen. 1988. “Empathetic Concern and Helping Behavior: Egoism or Altruism?Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 24 (4): 333-353.

 


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. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Socioemotional Selectivity Theory

Age (and Time Perception) Matters

According to socioemotional selectivity theory, as people age, their social goals shift considerably. For younger people who have a perception that there is much time ahead, they focus on knowledge-related goals. For older people with a perception that time is short, they tend to focus on emotional goals.

In other words, if your whole life is ahead of you, you may want to focus on personal growth, but if your life is coming to a close, you probably want to revel in ties with friends, family, and community with your remaining time. Presumably, connections with other animals would be included among these emotional goals.

These differing motivations require differing persuasion strategies. Although the Western vegan movement is dominated by younger demographics, movement actors could be unnecessarily restricting their reach by overlooking older constituents. Vegan campaigning could be more effective in targeting younger demographics with educational initiatives while targeting older demographics with compassion-based, emotional appeals.

However, time perception is relative. Younger persons could be primed to perceive that life is short, while older people could be primed to consider that there is much life yet to live. Thus, vegan activists can retain some ability to manipulate their audiences to suit a chosen campaign.

Overcoming Ageism in Vegan Campaigns

This research demonstrates that intersectional awareness is essential to the manufacture of effective vegan outreach. A one-size-fits-all campaign is unlikely to fully capitalize on a diversity of social and psychological positions that folks occupy according to their age, status, and health.

Social psychologists have noted that older people tend to be more ingrained in their ways and are less likely to pursue attitudinal and behavioral shifts (this is why social movements target college-age students). If social movements are not tailoring their strategies to accommodate diversity in life course positionality, the likelihood of persuading olders is even less. As the researchers argue, “[…] time perception is integral to human motivation […]” (Carstensen et al. 1999). Olders should not be excluded from campaigning, but activists do have a responsibility to acknowledge variations in social psychological responsiveness.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Target people who feel they have a lot of living to do with educational campaigns
  • Target people who feel they have limited time left on earth with emotional campaigns
  • Prime audiences, regardless of age, to perceive time as limited or abundant as appropriate to improve efficacy

References

Carstensen, L, D. Isaacowitz, and S. Charles. 1999. “Taking Time Seriously: A Theory of Socioemotional Selectivity.” American Psychologist 54 (3): 165-181.


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Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Conformity

Why Conform?

Humans are social animals, and social animals, for the sake of survival, have an innate and sometimes unconscious appreciation for conformity. In early human societies, failure to comply with the group could endanger both the individual and the group. Conformity had an evolutionary advantage. When it comes to changing behavior, then, especially at the individual level, social movements have a major hurdle to overcome regarding culture and social norms that are decidedly discriminatory.

Research on vegan recidivism highlights a number of challenges. These include product availability, convenience, and so forth. Yet, one of the strongest predictors for the abandonment of veganism is a desire to conform to societal norms. This effect is heightened since most new vegans are young people, and young people are especially sensitive to fitting in because their identity and sense of belonging are still under construction.

Conformity and Social Injustice

Sadly, conformity can coerce well-meaning people to participate in truly horrific, violent acts. Challenging these cultural norms leaves the individual at risk of ostracization regardless if they are in the wrong or right. Humans opt for paths of least resistance, meaning that they are likely to laugh at racist jokes, eat animal flesh, or remain bystanders at accidents if that is what others around them are doing.

Conformity and Self-Sabotage

If all of your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump, too? The social psychology of conformity suggests that you might. Humans not only engage in behaviors that are morally problematic due to conformity, but they can also work against their own self-interest.

One study found that, when participants in a study detected smoke seeping into the research facility, they looked to see how others reacted before reacting themselves. In this study, the researchers placed confederates in the facility who were told to ignore the smoke. Even as smoke billowed around them, participants failed to raise an alarm or leave the room simply because others in the room failed to do the same (Latane and Darley 1968).

Likewise, this is why youths take up smoking. They do so not because burning, chemical-laced tobacco tastes and smells good, but because all the “cool kids” are doing it (Harakeh and Vollebergh 2012). This is why vegan activists are not likely to convince their constituents to go vegan by touting veganism’s ability to prevent heart disease and cancer. People look to see what other people are doing before deciding what to do. If everyone around them is eating animal protein and animal protein is what dominates in grocery store aisles, restaurant menus, and television commercials, they will more than likely choose to conform to speciesism.

The Importance of Networks and Cultural Influence

Social movements often default to individualism when designing tactics by appealing to self-interest, but humans are social creatures. Peer pressure is extremely strong among human beings and should not be underestimated. The challenge for vegan activists, then, is to nurture a new societal culture for folks to conform to. Indeed, research finds that the strongest predictor for long-term adherence to veganism is a strong vegan network. Having friends and family members who are vegan, too, means that a new vegan will not feel so alienated. Celebrity vegan representation also helps, since opinion leaders and influencers can create new social norms.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Peer pressure and the desire to conform is a major impediment to vegan adherence
  • Nurturing strong vegan networks reduces recidivism
  • Vegan celebrities create new cultural norms for constituents to conform to

References

Harakeh, Z. and W. Vollebergh. 2012. “The Impact of Active and Passive Peer Influence on Young Adult Smoking: An Experimental Study.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence 121 (3): 220-223.

Latane, B. and J. Darley. 1968. “Bystander Intervention in Emergencies.” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 10 (3): 215-221.


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Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Moral Licensing

What is Moral Licensing?

In one fascinating psychological study, researchers found that doing a bit of good gives folks the license to do something naughty (Sachdeva et al. 2009). So, for instance, a person may go for a jog and then feel they can reward themselves with a box of donuts. Maybe that person participates in Walk a Mile in Her Shoes to raise awareness to domestic violence and later feel licensed to use pornography later.

When it comes to human relationships with other animals, this moral licensing could have implications for vegan activism. If someone donates to an animal charity, for instance, perhaps they feel they can “treat” themselves to some chickens’ wings later. Researchers would refer to this as a sort of moral self-regulation or licensing.

Limited Evidence

Although it is often the case that consumers will try to suppress any guilt they may feel for complacency in animal suffering by buying cage-free or donating to an animal welfare group, it is not necessarily the case that they will feel compelled to hurt Nonhuman Animals more as a result of acting prosocially.  Indeed, replication studies on moral licensing have not supported the existence of this psychological effect (Blanken et al. 2015).

Instead, cognitive dissonance is more likely at play. Cognitive dissonance occurs when folks become uneasy when confronted with a disconnect between their values and behaviors and then attempt to alleviate that conflict. Nonvegans can either tweak their values or behaviors to achieve psychological equilibrium. It is often the case that consumer values and behaviors shift toward the speciesist. In other words, when confronted with their empathy for other animals, some nonvegans double-down on their nonveganism to ease cognitive dissonance, not to engage in moral self-regulation.

Although moral licensing has little scientific support, it does remind us of the importance of scientific rigor. To be reliable, evidence should be supported by multiple studies. Activists, meanwhile, should investigate the source of scientific findings and determine their veracity before applying them to social movement efforts.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Moral licensing is not strongly supported by research
  • Individuals who practice prosocial behavior toward animals are not likely to “treat” themselves to speciesist practices in exchange

References

Blanken, I., N. van de Ven, and M. Zeelenberg. 2015. “A Meta-Analytic Review of Moral Licensing.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 41 (4): 540-558.

Sachdeva, S., R. Iliev, and D. Medin. 2009. “Sinning Saints and Saintly Sinners: The Paradox of Moral Self-Regulation.” Psychological Science 20: 523-528.

 


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

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Whataboutism

Trumping the Truth

The presidency of Donald Trump has been, for better or worse, highly enlightening for the vegan community. Trump and his campaigners have been particularly infamous for their ability to undermine the credibility of media coverage, scientific evidence, truth, and reality itself. This, in a way, is the same sort of business for vegans.

However, vegans do have to contend with media, science, and “facts” that are anything but truthful. Countermovements that find truth contentious can pull on a number of psychological tricks to stack the deck in their favor. Years after her defeat, for instance, Trump continued to raise the specter of “crooked” Senator Hillary Clinton in response to any complaints of his own failed policy or problematic behavior.

Trump’s Crooked Hillary trope is a classic example of what political pundits and social psychologists refer to as “whataboutism.” Whataboutism is a logical fallacy that works by deflecting criticism with charges of hypocrisy. Trump is certainly not the originator of this strategy. Political scientists have observed it as foundational to the Russian propaganda machine as well.

What About Animals?

As this series has examined, vegans must contend with a wide variety of deflecting techniques by animal consumers made uneasy by the cognitive dissonance. Whataboutism is perhaps one of the more readily available strategies to engage for this purpose. When confronted with a vegan message, many animal consumers retort, “What about mosquitos?” or “What about bacteria?” Other favorites include, “What about yeast?”, “What about animals killed to collect grain?”, and “What about the medicine you take?” In other words, nonvegans frequently deflect the vegan message with attempts to identify inconsistencies in vegan practice.

Although some activists have argued that these sorts of questions constitute genuine inquiries as to the limits of vegan ethics, social psychology suggests them to be classic examples of whataboutism. Whataboutism is a powerful means of resisting fact, truth, and reality. The election of Donald Trump stands as one telling example of this strategy’s effectiveness. The mass killing of animals in a world that claims to care about animal welfare is another.

Reflexivity

The good news is that whataboutism is not impervious. Sociologists suggest that practicing reflexivity can encourage meta-cognitive consideration of how one’s identity shapes one’s political positioning (Dean 2017). Pointing out logical fallacies and mechanisms of bias can thwart whataboutism.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Recognize the difference between genuine ethical inquiries and psychological dissonance-dodging
  • Encourage reflexiveness

References

Dean, J. 2017. Doing Reflexivity. Chicago, IL: The Chicago University Press.

 


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

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Segregation

Sociologists understand segregation to be one of the most potent and fundamental processes of oppression. Creating separation entails highlighting difference. This, in turn, justifies inequality. Segregation literally marginalizes vulnerable groups.

Segregation can happen by race, impacting housing. It can also happen by gender, impacting education. Vegan activists also recognize how segregation aggravates the human-animal divide. Since the industrial revolution, Nonhuman Animals have been increasingly segregated in remote agricultural spaces in feedlots, barns, and other intensive operations. This physical disconnect leads to a social disconnect. Even policies that ban dogs from public spaces or require the abandonment of companion animals during disasters help reinforce this physical othering.

Interestingly, social psychologists have noticed that segregation can also lead to the formation of negative attitudes about food. In a study of a restaurant’s menu design, reseachers discovered that lumping all plant-based options together in a separate section reduced their appeal. They were seen as marginal, out of the ordinary, and foreign. Alternatively, by integrating plant-based meals into the main menu space, nonvegan diners gave these dishes equal consideration. Diners were much more likely to choose vegan plates from the integrated menu than from the segregated menu.

Although lumping plant-based options together can make it easier for vegan diners to determine if the restaurant caters to their political and dietary needs, this is not a tactic that is likely to increase the popularity of veganism. After all, lots of nonvegans eat vegan meals regularly without thinking anything of it. It is only when these meals are labeled and segregated as “vegan” that nonvegan consumers disparage them as bland, unwholesome, or unfulfilling, claiming that they “could never be vegan.” This happens because the segregation elicits negative connotations of an otherized and stigmatized out-group.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Avoid segregating vegan choices
  • Integrate vegan choices with nonvegan choices if nonvegan choices are provided

References

Holzer, J. 2017. “Don’t Put Vegetables in the Corner.” World Resources Institute.


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

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Male Emotional Displays

Like many social movements, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement relies heavily on emotional displays to mobilize audiences. But, this movement is also highly gendered. Women predominate in the rank-in-file, but many of the most high profile activists are male. An activist’s gender identity can affect how their emotional displays are interpreted.

In a social psychological study of juror interpretations of perpetrators on trial, researchers found that, “jurors evaluate perpetrators who display distress more positively than those without signs of remorse” (Zhao and Rogalin 2017: 338). However, the effect was most pronounced with men.

The researchers describe this as an “emotional display premium.” This premium is afforded by men’s higher social status. Consider, for instance, how Obama’s visible tears following school shootings endeared him. Had Hillary Clinton expressed sadness in this way, she would have probably been labeled weak and unfit for politics.

Vegan activists usually work hard to control their feminine emotional displays, while masculinized emotion like anger and outrage are valorized (Groves 2001). However, Zhao and Rogalin’s research suggests that vegan protest would benefit if men were to display more feminized emotions of sadness and remorse.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Male displays of emotion are interpreted as sincere
  • Female displays are less likely to elicit positive evaluation

References

Groves, J. 2001. “Animal Rights and the Politics of Emotion.” Pp. 212-232, in Passionate Politics, J. Goodwin, J. Jasper, and F. Polletta (eds.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Zhao, J. and C. Rogalin. 2017. “Heinous Crime or Unfortunate Incident: Does Gender Matter?Social Psychology Quarterly 80 (4): 330-341.


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

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Extreme Rituals

Extreme Rituals

Animal activists regularly employ extreme protest rituals in hopes of soliciting empathy and support from audiences. Activists may engage in dangerous tree-sits. They may brand one another with hot irons as if they were cows. Similarly, they even reenact painful medical experiments or sexual violence against other animals.

Social psychological research supports the effectiveness of this tactic. For instance, one study finds that individuals who observed extreme religious rituals donated more. Examples of triggering rituals include undergoing multiple piercings, carrying heavy loads, self-flaggilation, or barefoot pilgrimages. Apparently, witnessing this suffering encouraged them to identify with the practitioner. They felt more generous as a result. The pain that observers perceived practitioners experiencing was highly motivating.

In For the Wild: Ritual and Commitment in Radical Eco-Activism (2017), Sarah Pike’s sociological research finds that protest rituals do not just cue prosociality among audiences. They also do so within activist communities. Extreme rituals heighten emotions and elicit solidarity. Extreme rituals draw attention to the vulnerability of activists and those for whom they advocate.

Minding Gender

Although extreme rituals have the power to trigger prosocial behavior among audiences and activist groups, the fact that women predominate in vegan activism is cause for some concern. Women are disproportionately utilized in graphic public protests (Wrenn 2013). This has the potential to aggravate gendered mental schemas that link violence, suffering, and femininity. Worse still, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement frequently sexualizes women’s suffering.

Research finds that audiences recognize the sexist component to these campaigns. Consequently, they are less likely to find the vegan message persuasive.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Extreme protest rituals may trigger prosocial behaviors such as donating
  • They also encourage group solidarity
  • Extreme rituals that exploit women may repel audiences

References

Pike, S. 2017. For the Wild: Ritual and Commitment in Radical Eco-Activism. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

Wrenn, C. L. 2013. “The Role of Professionalization Regarding Female Exploitation in the Nonhuman Animal Rights Movement.” Journal of Gender Studies 24 (2): 131-146.

Xygalatas, D., P. Mitkidis, R. Fischer, P. Reddish, J. Skewes, A. Geertz, A. Roepstorff, and J. Bulbulia. 2012. “Extreme Rituals Promote Prosociality.” Psychological Science 24 (8): 1602-1605.

 


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

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