Sunday, November 23, 2014

Applying Social Psychology to Vegan Outreach: Age

November is World Vegan Month. To contribute to this month's activities, each day I will be presenting a social psychological concept or theory applied to abolitionist Nonhuman Animal rights. I began this series with a discussion of persuasion. Explorations into persuasion can be divided into research on the messenger, message, channel, and audience. Thus far, I have discussed what makes for an effective messenger, what channels are most appropriate, and some ways to improve the message. Today I discuss the role of audience. It is essential that advocates recognize that the population is very diverse. There is no one-size-fits-all tactic.

Vegan Outreach maximizes efforts by targeting young people

As we have seen in previous explorations into successful (and unsuccessful) persuasion techniques, cultures, subcultures, and individuals themselves will vary in responsiveness.  This essay looks specifically at how changes in the individual's lifespan can be an important consideration.  For the most part, attitudes are generational (Sears 1976).  That is, the attitudes formed in youth tend to hold constant throughout an individual's life.  Research has found that attitudes are most receptive to change in one's teens and early twenties (Krosnick, J. and D. Alwin 1989).  However, older individuals are certainly not completely immune to cultural shifts and can experience liberal attitude change as well (Danigelis and Cutler 1991).

Right away, we can see why so many vegan outreach organizations target college students.  Given that resources are so limited, it makes sense to focus efforts on a younger audience.  This is not to say that efforts would be lost on other audiences, but if the choice must be made between leafleting on a college campus and a community center, the college campus would probably extract a greater return.  The influence of cultural shifts on those more resistant to attitude change is also promising.  Those who were past their twenties during major liberal shifts in the United States (such as the Civil Rights movement), were still found to be relatively less conservative.  Therefore, focusing on the younger population will have a direct impact on that younger audience, but it should have a positive, indirect impact on older individuals as well.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Target teens and young adults


References
Danigelis, N. and S. Cutler.  1991.  "An Inter-Cohort Comparison of Changes in Racial Attitudes."  Research on Aging 13 (3):  383-404.

Krosnick, J. and D. Alwin.  1989.  "Aging and Susceptibility to Attitude Change."  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 57:  416-425.


Sears, D.  Life Stage Effects Upon Attitude Change, Especially Among the Elderly.  Manuscript prepared for Workshop on the Elderly of the Future, Committee on Aging, National Research Council, Annapolis, MD, May 3-5.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Applying Social Psychology to Vegan Outreach: Decision Paralysis

November is World Vegan Month. To contribute to this month's activities, each day I will be presenting a social psychological concept or theory applied to abolitionist Nonhuman Animal rights. I began this series with a discussion of persuasion. Explorations into persuasion can be divided into research on the messenger, message, channel, and audience. Thus far, I have discussed what makes for an effective messenger, what channels are most appropriate, and some ways to improve the message. This past week I have been highlighting concepts that can help or hinder persuasion.  One common barrier to effective persuasion is something known as decision paralysis.

Too many choices can hinder behavior change

Decision paralysis happens when there is simply too much choice, people become overloaded, and, thus, make no decisions at all (Heath and Heath 2010).  Less choice, counter to common sense, is actually better than more choice (Swartz 2004).  This was exemplified in an experiment that offered in-store samples of a few jams versus many jams. When customers had too many jams to pick from, they were less likely to purchase. It was too hard to come to a decision. What's more, the availability of alternatives means that the decisions that are made tend to be less satisfying because we tend to look back on "what could have been."  See Schwartz's TED talk on the subject for a deeper discussion.

This information is particularly damning for how Nonhuman Animal rights is framed.  In an article I published in Food, Culture & Society, I argue that professionalized Nonhuman Animal rights groups offer way too much choice.  At any given time, for example, PETA, Mercy for Animals, Compassion Over Killing, and Farm Sanctuary are offering ten or more campaigns to support. The reason they do this is probably to increase their fundraising, but it likely has the effect of overloading their audience to the point of inaction.

For the Vegan Toolkit
Condense available choices


References

C. Heath and D. Heath.  2010.  Switch:  How to Change Things When Change is Hard.  New York, NY:  Broadway Books.

Shwartz.  2004.  The Paradox of Choice:  Why More is Less.  Harper Perennial.

Wrenn, C. and R. Johnson.  Forthcoming.  “A Critique of Single-Issue Campaigning and the Importance of Comprehensive Abolitionist Vegan Advocacy.”  Food, Culture & Society.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Applying Social Psychology to Vegan Outreach: Gendered Helping

November is World Vegan Month. To contribute to this month's activities, each day I will be presenting a social psychological concept or theory applied to abolitionist Nonhuman Animal rights. I began this series with a discussion of persuasion. Explorations into persuasion can be divided into research on the messenger, message, channel, and audience. Thus far, I have discussed what makes for an effective messenger, what channels are most appropriate, and some ways to improve the message. This past week I have been highlighting concepts that can help or hinder persuasion, such as yesterday's discussion of haste (busy people are distracted people and are therefore not prone to help).  Busy people are less likely to help, but helping is also gendered.

Humans help according to ascribed gender roles

Dangerous situations or situations involving strangers in need are more likely to elicit help from men (Eagly and Crowley 1986).  In less dangerous situations, however, women are slightly more likely to help and to act selflessly (Becker and Eagly 2004).  Women tend to respond with greater empathy and to devote more time to helping (George et al. 1998).  The differences in helping, of course, reflect gender norms that see men as heroic risk-takers and women as empathetic nurturers.

Gendered helping is clearly evident in activism for other animals.  Activism that is seen as dangerous, risky, and heroic--namely illegal direct action--is disproportionately undertaken by men.  The Animal Liberation Front, for instance, is dominated by men and engages in activity that risks severe legal ramifications (Hall 2006).  The groundwork of Nonhuman Animal advocacy, however, that which requires prolonged helping, is largely undertaken by women.  Indeed, as much as 80% of the animal rights movement is female (Gaarder 2011).  Traditionally confined to the domestic sphere, Victorian women were actually able to exploit their stereotype as a "natural" nurturer and use that as justification for their involvement in animal rights advocacy at a time when social activism was deemed unladylike.


Unfortunately, prevailing gender inequality has ensured that masculine helping tends to garner more prestige than feminine helping.  ALF enjoys a certain celebrity in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, and if not outright condoned, their actions are at least tolerated.1  Meanwhile, the everyday, drudgery work undertaken by the female majority goes largely unappreciated despite their more enduring contributions.  On the other hand, masculine gender norms, while favorable to an activist's status, can be particularly dangerous for men.  Not only does engaging in illegal activity leave men susceptible to enormous restitution fees or prison sentences,2 but the violence celebrated within the militant movement is also detrimental to men's mental and physical well-being.

Notes

1. See Free the Animals:  The Amazing True Story of the Animal Liberation Front by founder and president of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk.

2. Under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, those convicted could face fines of under $10,000 up to $1,000,000 and up to 10 years in prison (or as much as life if anyone is actually  hurt by their actions).

References

Becker, S. and A. Eagly.  2004.  "The Heroism of Women and Men."  American Psychologist 59:  163-178.

Eagly, A. and M. Crowley.  1986.  "Gender and Helping Behavior:  A Meta-Analytic Review of the Social Psychological Literature."  Psychological Bulletin 100:  283-308.

Gaarder, E.  2011.  Women and the Animal Rights Movement.  New Brunswick, NJ:  Rutgers University Press.

George, D., P. Carroll, R. Kersnick, K. Calderon.  1998.  "Gender-Related Patterns of Helping Among Friends."  Psychology of Women Quarterly 22:  685-704.

Hall, L.  2006.  Capers in the Churchyard:  Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Terror.  Nectar Bat Press.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Applying Social Psychology to Vegan Outreach: Haste

November is World Vegan Month. To contribute to this month's activities, each day I will be presenting a social psychological concept or theory applied to abolitionist Nonhuman Animal rights. I began this series with a discussion of persuasion. Explorations into persuasion can be divided into research on the messengermessagechannel, and audience. Thus far, I have discussed what makes for an effective messenger, what channels are most appropriate, and some ways to improve the messageThis past week I have been highlighting concepts that can help or hinder  persuasion, such as yesterday's focus on in-group bias (we help those who are like us).  Today I discuss a very simple concept:  haste.

Trying to catch busy students may decrease persuasion
Whether or not an individual is in a hurry will determine their likelihood of helping. In one study, Darley and Batson (1973) presented an experimental group with a talk on being a Good Samaritan while the control group go no such talk on helping.  They were then told to attend another meeting in a building nearby.  In doing so, they would pass a person in need planted by the researchers.  Interestingly, whether or not the participant had received a Good Samaritan lecture did not predict if they would stop to help the person in need.  Neither did personal religiosity.   What actually predicted if the person would stop to help was if they were in a hurry or not.  Some participants were told they had plenty of time to reach the next meeting; some were told they were already late.  Those who thought they were late were too focused on reaching their destination to notice much else, unlike those participants with time to spare.

These findings have several implications for advocacy on behalf of other animals.  First, it speaks to the innate tendency for humans to want to help, a tendency that is independent of priming though priming does usually help) (Beaman et al. 1978) and religious affiliation (though religious people tend to be more involved in community programs) (Myers 2013).  I spoke about this human tendency in my article on the norm of social responsibility.  We often help because it's expected of us--even when no one is watching or if that help is anonymous.

Secondly, we should tailor our vegan outreach to account for levels of audience busyness.  How often have you passed by a leafletter or information table that might otherwise be of interest were you not late for the bus or rushing off to class or work?  For example, while advocating on college campuses is useful in that it targets a large number of more receptive individuals, maybe stationing in zones where students are more likely to be milling around with free time would be useful.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Avoid targeting busy people
  • Seek out audiences with the time to pay attention


References

Beaman, A., P. Barnes, B. Klentz, B. McQuirk.  1978.  "Increasing Helping Rates Through Information Dissemination:  Teaching Pays."  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 4:  406-411.

Darley, J. and C. Batson.  1973.  "From Jerusalem to Jericho:  A Study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior."  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 27:  100-108.

Myers, D. 2013. Social Psychology, 11th ed. McGraw Hill.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Applying Social Psychology to Vegan Outreach: Ingroup Bias

The following essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.  Because I am publishing a book on this topic in 2015, posts will be significantly edited due to potential copyright conflicts.

November is World Vegan Month. To contribute to this month's activities, each day I will be presenting a social psychological concept or theory applied to abolitionist Nonhuman Animal rights. I began this series with a discussion of persuasion. Explorations into persuasion can be divided into research on the messenger, message, channel, and audienceThus far, I have discussed what makes for an effective messenger, what channels are most appropriate, and some ways to improve the message.  On November 16th and 17th, I discussed two social norms that influence pro-social behavior:  reciprocity and social responsibility.  Both have some evolutionary basis but are also reinforced through socialization in many human cultures.  Another tendency in human society that helps explain the urge to help is in-group bias.

Human in-group bias is an important barrier to anti-speciesism

Humans have a tendency to create in-groups (us) and out-groups (them).  Occupying an in-group is important for self esteem, identity, community, and safety.  Out-groups are often the natural result of in-group construction.  We need a "them" to help define the "us."  Naturally, just as we favor ourselves, we tend to favor our in-group as an extension of ourselves and inclusive of those like us and most important to us.  Social psychologists have confirmed that in-group bias (this favoring of "us") leads individuals to be more empathetic and helpful to those in their in-group.  While some literature recognizes that culture and class elicit in-group bias (those of another culture or class are less likely to be helped), the literature on racial in-group bias is mixed (race is not always consequential).

The flip-side of in-group bias, of course, is that favoring of "us" over "them," usually entails puffing up the in-group and belittling the out-group.  "Separate but equal," as we know, is a fallacy.  Creating differences usually means creating a hierarchy of worth.  For those unfortunate others who are not included in the in-group, if that in-group is particularly powerful and the out-group is particularly vulnerable, those outsiders can become seriously disadvantaged.

In applications to Nonhuman Animal rights advocacy, we can point to a long cultural history of otherizing Nonhuman Animals.  Human beings have carved for themselves one large species-based in-group, and all others who occupy the out-group of "nonhuman" are thus viewed as lesser-than and as resources.  So long as other animals are excluded from the in-group of humanity, those in the in-group will not be particularly swayed to consider their interests.  This is why many theorists and activists struggle to expand human in-group boundaries to include other animals by reframing the group as one based in sentience rather than cognitive abilities.  In recognizing human/nonhuman similarities (which, biologically outnumber the dissimilarities), humans--as fellow sentient beings--should be more likely to help.  And, as we've seen from the research that challenges racial bias, if race can be overcome in one's inclination to help, surely species can be overcome as well.  Indeed, for thousands of advocates, it already has.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Challenge notions that Nonhuman Animals are especially different from humans
  • Reject similarities in cognition in favor of similarities in sentience


References

Emswiller, T., K. Deaux, and J. Willits.  1971.  "Similarity, Sex, and Requests for Small Favors."  Journal of Applied Social Psychology 1:  284-291.

Miller, P. J. Kozu, and A. Davis.  2001.  "Social Influence, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior in Cross-Cultural  Perspective."  In W. Wosinka, R. Cialdini, D. Barrett, and J. Reykowski (Eds.), The Practice of Social Influence in Multiple Cultures.  Mahwah, NJ:  Erlbaum.

Myers, D. 2013. Social Psychology, 11th ed. McGraw Hill.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Domestication & Euthanasia: A No-Kill Nation of Violence

Domestication creates a situation of dependence and represents systemic violence
I am a huge supporter of Nathan Winograd and his battle against PETA and the movement's drive to kill healthy companion animals. A few months ago, a reader mentioned to me that Winograd was against the extinction of domesticated species. Until now, I had seen only minimal evidence to support such a position. The following was posted on Nathan Winograd on November 16th:
PETA believes that sharing your home with dogs and cats violates the rights of those animals. They write, “This selfish desire to possess animals and receive love from them causes immeasurable suffering... They are restricted to human homes, where they must obey commands and can only eat, drink, and even urinate when humans allow them to.” They go on to say, “Let us allow the dog to disappear from our brick and concrete jungles—from our firesides, from the leather nooses and metal chains by which we enslave it.” 
One way PETA seeks to accomplish this is through mass killing. [...]
That end—the deliberate extinction of those the movement has pledged to defend—is one to which no other rights-based movement in history has ever subscribed. You will find no children’s rights groups advocating mass killing of homeless, neglected, or abused children. You will find no human rights groups advocating mass killing of refugees. You will find no rights group in any movement advocating the mass killing of the victims. Except PETA. 
Of course, we can do better for companion animals as a society. Of course, there is much work to do to reduce their exploitation. But for the cats contentedly sleeping on our laps, suggesting they don’t belong and that they are better off dead because our love is “selfish” is just muddled thinking born of evil and arrogance. Long after we have ended the killing of animals for food, long after we’ve ended the commercial trade in sentient beings, long after we’ve rearranged society in countless other ways to better meet their needs, dogs and cats will continue to share our homes. And they will do so because in the end, living with dogs and cats is not only consistent with the rights of animals, but as we evolve as a species to better address their needs, can be the purest expression of it.
No Kill Nation shared the statement on November 16 with the following comment:
EXTINCTION OF COMPANION ANIMALS - THAT IS PeTA'S GOAL
I am all for the no-kill approach, but the fact remains that domestication is a form of violence. We have a responsibility to love and care for the animals we've brought into existence, but it would be a form of violence to continue to breed domesticated animals. Domestication creates genetic problems, anxieties and stress for other animals, vulnerability to violence, and most importantly: dependence. They exist as slaves for human enjoyment. They cannot consent to their condition. They have no agency in where or how they will live. They exist as resources . . . even if you really, really love your dog/cat/rabbit/etc. And I do. I love my dog and cat. I love them with all of my heart, but I also recognize they are products of structural violence. They are refugees. You don't solve the refugee problem by creating more refugees. That only perpetuates violence.

Even responsible "pet ownership" creates mental health problems for companion animals

The problem seems to be that Winograd is conflating PETA's rights-based position that domestication must be ended (a position that is, despite what he claims, relatively well accepted in Nonhuman Animal rights activism) with their welfare-based position that favors the intentional mass killing of Nonhuman Animals currently in existence. This conflation is not accurate: only PETA and other large non-profits that have prioritized bureaucratic and financial growth seek lethal options over adoption efforts. True Nonhuman Animal rights positions seek an end to violence against other animals on BOTH fronts: euthanasia and domestication.

Killing healthy dogs and cats is a form of systemic violence. Perpetuating domestication is also a form of systemic violence. A meaningful rights position cannot accommodate either. Continued domestication is a foundational principle to the welfarist approach, that is, we can continue to use other animals as long as we do it "nicely." However, in an anthroparchy/human supremacy, it will always be humans maintaining the privilege of deciding what constitutes "nice." Nonhuman Animals will not have agency in deciding what is best for themselves, such as, who they want to live with, and under what conditions.

Free-living animals with histories of domestication are an important exception

For those domesticated species that have adapted to free-living, allowing them to continue as a species should not be a moral concern. Many communities of horses and cats, for instance, have escaped domestication and have lived successfully without human intervention for generations. In these cases, Lee Hall's On Their Own Terms (2010) advocates a policy of non-interference. Will Kymlicka and Sue Donaldson in Zoopolis (2011), however, see free-living communities as distinct "nations" that may require support at times. Interfering with free-living communities could be seen as an act of cultural genocide and an assault on their basic right to exist.  In any case, applications of Nonhuman Animal rights never include the killing of healthy animals, only the cessation of violent systems of dependence and objectification.

If you are interested in learning more about domestication and the violence it entails, I recommend David Nibert's 2013 publication: Animal Oppression and Human Violence: Domesecration, Capitalism, and Global Conflict.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Applying Social Psychology to Vegan Outreach: Social Responsibility Norm

The following essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.  Because I am publishing a book on this topic in 2015, posts will be significantly edited due to potential copyright conflicts.

November is World Vegan Month. To contribute to this month's activities, each day I will be presenting a social psychological concept or theory applied to abolitionist Nonhuman Animal rights. I began this series with a discussion of persuasion. Explorations into persuasion can be divided into research on the messengermessagechannel, and audience. Thus far, I have discussed what makes for an effective messenger, what channels are most appropriate, and some ways to improve the message.  Today I discuss an important pro-social norm that can ease persuasion.


The norm of social responsibility speculates that people will help even when there is no expectation of reciprocation and even when that help remains anonymous.  However, there tends to be two stipulations:  1) The person or group needing help should be perceived as unable to control their circumstances, and 2) The situation must garner sympathy.

That social responsibility is a social norm is good news for social movements everywhere, but particularly for abolitionist vegan advocates, as the work put into advancing the interests of other animals often has limited returns.  However, we can potentially increase participation by highlighting how other animals are truly victims with very little control over their circumstances.  Recall from my article on the just-world phenomenon, humans tend to blame victims--so, Nonhuman Animals are often framed as "stupid," ugly, hateful, or otherwise deserving of their exploitation and death.  It should be a priority of advocates, then, to counter these stereotypes and restore personhood to these animals. 

Secondly, arousing sympathy is necessary to evoke the social responsibility norm.  Restoring Nonhuman Animal personhood is a major step in accomplishing this, but we should also not shy completely from describing conditions (even "humane" conditions) experienced by Nonhuman Animals.  I argued earlier this month that the utilization of emotion is immensely useful in mobilizing activists, and surely this is related to how narratives, photographs, and images can elicit sympathy.  Keep in mind, however, that a message too heavily reliant on emotion might only be useful in creating superficial, short-lived change.  For this reason, partnering emotional appeals with rational appeals seems to be a safer approach.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Create a feeling of social responsibility
  • Focus on Nonhuman Animals as unable to help themselves
  • Use descriptions of suffering to garner sympathy
  • Counter negative stereotypes about other animals



References

Berkowitz, L.  1972.  "Social Norms, Feelings, and Other Factors Affecting Helping and Altruism."  In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 6).  New York:  Academic Press.

Rudolph, U., S. Roesch, T. Greitenmeyer, B. Weiner.  2004.  "A Meta-Analytic Review of Help-Giving and Aggression From an Attributional Perspective:  Contributions to a General Theory of Motivation."  Cognition and Emotion 18:  815-848.

Schwartz, S.  1975.  "The Justice of Need and the Activation of Humanitarian Norms."  Journal of Social Issues 31 (3):  111-136.

Shotland, R. and C. Stebbins.  1983.  "Emergency and Cost as Determinants of Helping Behavior and the Slow Accumulation of Social Psychological Knowledge." Social Psychology Quarterly 46:  36-46.

Weiner, B.  1980.  "A Cognitive (Attribution)-Emotion-Action Model of Motivated Behavior:  An Analysis of Judgements of Help-Giving."  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39:  186-200.