Remembering Meaningful Moments
The human brain must filter and interpret massive amounts of information across its lifespan. Of course, not everything lasts in storage. It will usually be those moments that were especially memorable in their distinction that stick around.
For this reason, we are more likely to remember especially exciting or unique points in our life. These might include births, marriages, graduations, vacations and so on. A child might not remember what they did on a given day from their summer vacation, but they will surely remember visiting Disneyland and meeting Mickey Mouse. Indeed, Disneyland consciously manipulates the visitor experience to maximize positive memory-making.
Making Memories to Maximize Impact
Social psychologists Heath & Heath (2017) emphasize that meaningful moments do not just “happen.” They can be created. Because social movements rely on the manipulation of audience awareness, it behooves activists to understand how to create the biggest impact. This is especially important in the highly competitive and fast-paced media landscape in which a movement’s message is easily overlooked or outpaced.
Social change activists can easily tap into the psychological tendency to remember meaningful moments by working to create experiences that stand out from the regular operations of day-to-day life. Street protests, disruptions, and marches, for instance, can create meaningful moments. Meeting other animals in sanctuaries can also create meaningful moments.
Leafletters hanging out vegetarian pamphlets to students rushing between classes might be able to hit larger audiences, but these students are used to being leafletted every day and this interaction is not likely to be very memorable.
What about Negative Memories?
Meaningful moments are not always positive. If someone steals your wallet, you are likely to be more cautious with your wallet in the future. If you were bitten by a dog, the potential dangerousness of dogs will likely be the key attribute remembered. Folks living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) also serve as evidence to the lasting impact of negative memories.
This is why some vegans cite a particularly memorable moment as the catalyst for their move toward a plant-based lifestyle. However, vegan campaigners should be careful about creating negative memorable moments, as a negative association with veganism could alienate audiences. Audiences can also employ psychological blocks to avoid having to cope with unpleasant information.
For the Activist Toolbelt
- Create meaningful moments to have lasting impact on memory
- Avoid run-of-the-mill interactions and campaigns that blend into the status quo
- Creating negative memories is not advised
Heath, C. and Heath, D. 2017. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact. Simon & Schuster.
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.