The Social Psychology of Veganism – Cognitive Priming

Cognitive Priming for Positive Outcomes

Cognitive priming refers to the process of manipulating an audience’s interpretation of information. Professors, for instance, might make subtle hints to their students about positive experiences in the classroom hoping that students will score them higher on end-of-term evaluations. Realtors may bake cookies in a home for sale for a nostalgic, lived-in atmosphere, hoping to encourage would-be buyers to imagine themselves buying and living in the home. Comedians and musicians rely on opening acts to get audiences jazzed about the main event.

With cognitive priming, agents not only allow for the manipulation of new information. Priming can also improve the recollection of memories (Rholes et al. 1987). Vegan activists can, therefore, manipulate the interpretation of campaigns by cognitively priming audiences beforehand. Facilitating good moods can assist with this. Vegans can even prime others to experience and remember vegan food more positively by priming beforehand.

Cognitive Priming for Negative Outcomes

Unfortunately, priming works both ways. People can be primed toward the negative, too. For instance, researchers in one study exposed an experimental group to aggressive media (Bushman 1998). After the exposure, researchers asked participants to come up with word associations in a seemingly unrelated lexicon task. The participants exposed to the violent media were more likely to come up with violent word associations than those in the control group.

The priming effect acts as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Persons primed to enter a mindset of positivity or negativity are more likely to experience an event or information respectively.

For vegan campaigners, then, their success may be limited should they organize protests or tablings in spaces where audiences have been primed with aggression. For instance, anti-hunt disruptions may be important for aiding wounded Nonhuman Animals and drawing attention to their oppression, but they are less likely to persuade audiences to respond positively to veganism having already been aggressively primed by the festivities.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Prime audiences to interpret and remember vegan ideas and food positively
  • Avoid campaigning in spaces where audiences have already been primed with aggression

References

Bushman, B. 1998. “Priming Effects of Media Violence on the Accessibility of Aggressive Constructs in Memory.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 24 (5): 537-545.

Rholes, W., J. Riskind, and J. Lane. 1987. “Emotional states and memory biases: Effects of cognitive priming and mood.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 52 (1): 91-99.

 


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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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