The Social Psychology of Veganism – Dissemination Channels

A message can be broadcast by face-to-face contact, video, audio, or written word. With so many options, which is the most effective? It depends.

Speaking with audiences in person seems to be the most effective overall.  Medical practitioners have found that they can improve the health habits of their patients by speaking with them face-to-face, as opposed to simply handing them brochures. Vegan tabling and presentations that utilize similar techniques to persuade lifestyle changes are thus advantageous.

This approach has its limits, however. In one study, only 10% of participants were able to recall church sermons on egalitarian attitudes. Simply lecturing at folks can tax their short-term memory. Vegan activists may thus wish to explore alternative channels or mix and match.

Visually-based channels can also be effective, but only for certain types of messages. Complex messages are easily lost if viewers become distracted by other things going on in the medium, such as the actors or flashing lights. Morally shocking images favored by advocates and non-profits may thus have shortcomings. Indeed, many viewers become preoccupied in the shock value of Nonhuman Animals suffering and do not absorb vegan or anti-speciesist arguments.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Give preference to face-to-face channels
  • Avoid visual channels for complex messages
  • Use written forms for complex messages


Chaiken, S. and A. Eagly 1983.  “Communication Modality as a Determinant of Persuasion:  The Role of Communicator Salience.”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 45:  241-256.

Crawford, T.  1974.  “Sermons on Racial Tolerance and the Parish Neighborhood Context.”  Journal of Applied Social Psychology 4:  1-23.

Eldersveld, S. and R. Dodge.  1954.  “Personal Contact or Mail Propaganda?  An Experiment in Voting Turnout and Attitude Change.”  In D. Katz, D. Cartwright, S. Eldersveld, and A. Lee (Eds.), Public Opinion and Propaganda.  New York:  Dryden Press.

Farquhar, J. et al.  1977.  “Community Education for Cardiovascular Health.”  Lancet:  1192-1195, June 4.

Maccoby, N.  1980.  “Promoting Positive Health Behaviors in Adults.”  In L. Bond and J. Rosen (eds.), Competence and Coping During Adulthood.  Hanover, NH:  University Press of New England.


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.