The Social Psychology of Veganism – Distraction

As any good magician knows, distraction is key to landing a trick successfully. Activists can benefit from distraction as well. Research finds that audience members who are distracted are more likely to accept a message and are less likely to counterargue (Keating and Brock 1974, Osterhouse and Brock 1970).

Alternatively, advertisements steeped in violence and/or sex run the risk of being too distracting.  People who view commercials featuring either or both of these elements are less likely to remember what the advertised brand was (Bushman 2007). This is damning information for many vegan outreach efforts. For instance, PETA’s “I’d Rather Go Naked Than” campaign distracts from an anti-speciesist message with rampant nudity. Social psychologists in Australia have measured that PETA’s audience members are less likely to absorb the message due to the distraction caused by sexualization. It’s not just the naked bodies that distract, it’s also the misogyny.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Ensure that tactics do not distract from the message
  • Avoid too much music, light, acting, sexualization, and violence which can distract
  • Avoid sexist campaigning


Bongiorno, R., Bain, P., Haslam, N. 2013. “When Sex Doesn’t Sell: Using Sexualized Images of Women Reduces Support for Ethical Campaigns.”PLOS One. 

Bushman, B.  2007.  “That Was a Great Commercial, But What Were They Selling?  Effects of Violence and Sex on Memory for Products in Television Commercials.”  Journal of Applied Social Psychology 37:  1784-1796.

Keating, J. and T. Brock.  1974.  “Acceptance of Persuasion and the Inhibition of Counterargumentation Under Various Distraction Tasks.”  Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 10:  301-309.

Osterhouse, R. and T. Brock.  1970.  “Distraction Increases Yielding to Propaganda by Inhibiting Counterarguing.”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 15:  344-358.

Regan, D. and J. Cheng.  1973.  “Distraction and Attitude Change:  A Resolution.”  Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 9:  138-147.


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.