Should activists acknowledge counterarguments in their appeals? Some research suggests that doing so will increase the speaker’s credibility.
With any persuasive measure, audience matters. If an audience is not aware of the opposing argument or already agrees with the message, two-sided appeals are not necessary. For vegans, it is likely that their nonvegan audience is unfamiliar with the anti-speciesist claimsmaking and would benefit from a two-sided appeal.
However, when addressing an audience that is already vegan or is at least predisposed to veganism, two-sided appeals may not be needed. Research suggests that, if an audience already agrees, it is actually a one-sided appeal that will strengthen attitudes.
Otherwise, confronting a counterargument head on does tend to increase persuasiveness. In one study testing the persuasiveness of recycling signs, signs that addressed the counterargument proved more effective: “It may be inconvenient, but …” Vegan Outreach has a pamphlet that utilizes this method: Even if You Like Meat…. Unfortunately, instead of pushing a clear, vegan message, the Vegan Outreach pamphlet only suggests individuals reduce their consumption of other animals and their products. Vegans can easily tweak this approach for a more ethically consistent message.
For the Vegan Toolkit
- If your audience is in agreement, use one-sided appeal
- If your audience is not in agreement, use a two-sided appeal and address counterarguments
Hovland, C. , A. Lumsdaine, and F. Sheffield. 1949. Experiments on Mass Communication. Studies in Social Psychology in World War II (Vol. III). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jones, R. and J. Brehm. 1970. “Persuasiveness of One- and Two-Sided Communications as a Function of Awareness There are Two Sides.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 6: 47-56.
Lumsdaine, A. and I. Janis. 1953. “Resistance to ‘Counter-Propaganda’ Produced by One-Sided and Two-Sided ‘Propaganda’ Presentations.” Public Opinion Quarterly 17: 311-318.
Werner, C., R. Stoll, P. Birch., and P. White. 2002 “Clinical Validation and Cognitive Elaboration: Signs that Encourage Sustained Recycling.” Basic and Applied Social Psychology 24: 185-203.
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 on The Examiner in 2012.