Will the animal (rights) movement ever succeed?

Social justice movements and answering the question, "Will the animal (rights) movement ever succeed?": presentation >>

This comes from the October 2010 animal law conference at Lewis and Clark Law School.

If I could have embeded it, I would have. So just follow the link...

Book Review: Change Of Heart

A couple weeks ago I read Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Social Change, a book by animal advocate Nick Cooney about motivating people to act in ways that benefit animals, other humans, and the planet.

The praise already given to this book describes it accurately:
“If we want to create a more compassionate world, we need to understand what motivates people to make compassionate choices. Change of Heart provides fresh, research based insight into how non-profits and individuals can more effectively create social change through a better understanding of the human mind.” - Gene Baur, Director, Farm Sanctuary

The book is a well-written and well-researched piece that belongs in the animal advocate's canon alongside Striking At The Roots and The Animal Activist's Handbook. The book is packed with scientific evidence that suggests particular strategies are more effective than others at producing societal shifts in regards to animal rights, human rights, and environmentalism.

Here's a snippet from the book to give you a taste of what I mean. This comes from chapter four "Tools of Influence, Part I: Simple Tools":
"Seeing a running meter of something—for example, the cost of a cab ride rising and rising, or calories burning off one by one on a digital counter while we exercise—has more of an impact than simply hearing the final price or number of calories burned. The Wattson, a popular item in the U.K., is a small device that displays in real time the amount of energy being used by a household and how much that energy is costing. Similar devices for sale in the U.S. show the electricity use and cost of individual appliances in real time. Watching the cost rise minute by minute can be a powerful motivator to lower energy consumption; the Wattson’s creators claim the device cuts household energy usage by five to twenty-five percent simply by providing immediate feedback to home-owners."

"Providing positive feedback on behavioral change that’s already taken place can help increase that behavior. For example, signs posted on recycling containers that proudly mentioned how many cans had been collected the previous week increased subsequent recycling totals by sixty-five percent (Larson et al. 1995). In another study, households that were mailed letters about their reduced energy usage and financial savings subsequently decreased usage by another five percent, whereas a control group that didn’t receive a letter actually increased their usage (Seligman and Darley 1977). Similarly, households in one town that got feedback on the number of pounds of materials they were recycling each week subsequently increased the amount of material they recycled by twenty-six percent (DeLeon and Fuqua 1995)."

For animal advocates who promote veganism, a similar concept could be used. For example, Eric Markus talks about "becoming an animal millionaire" wherein he means sparing ONE MILLION animals from lives full of suffering and painful death by becoming a vegan and then helping others become vegan too:
"All you need to do is to get about 500 young people to switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Since each 20-year-old will likely eat another 2000 chickens and other farmed animals over the course of his or her life, that works out to about a million animals for every 500 young people who change their diets." - Eric Markus

Ideas like this one will spring into your head as you read Change of Heart. You'll nod in agreement when a passage you read confirms your intuition or your own behavior. You'll cringe at some of the sneaky salesman tricks marketers have used and wonder if there's a more honest use for that information. And you'll wonder how little is really known in the fields of psychology and sociology.

A couple caveats:
  • Psychological and sociological studies can identify trends among certain personality types or groups of people. For example, older people tend to confuse myths for facts when given a factsheet that identifies myths. Simply repeating myths often can make many people (of all ages) believe the myths are true, even when prefaced with the word "myth" and followed by the conflicting fact labeled "fact." (I learned this from the book.) However, that does not mean that human beings always produce predictible behavior. Human behavior is incredibly complex and difficult to predict or analyze.

  • Likewise, these studies are not necessarily conclusive. There is room for doubt and room for error. Human beings conducted these studies, afterall, and humans are fallible.

  • Very few of the studies cited in Change of Heart were conducted for the purpose of learning about effective animal advocacy. Most of the conclusions drawn are based on analogies between other types of advocacy or even from the field of marketing, which means that there's room for error here.

  • All of the above simply mean that people who are interested in effective animal advocacy ought to spend significantly more time and energy studying how to be effective. There's a lot to be learned in this area and if we're serious, we should take to the task as though we were doctoral candidates in the subject. That is, we should do more research!

    If Change of Heart interests you, then you might also consider reading:
  • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

  • The Tipping Point

  • Nudge

  • How We Decide

  • Have you read anything good lately?

    Crossposted at Vegan Soapbox

    Are Emails Effective?

    I was recently reminded of an article I read at Striking At The Roots a while ago. The article is about email activism. Here's a quote:

    Do elected officials and other decision-makers even care about the mass emails they receive?

    So I called the office of Dianne Feinstein in Washington, DC, figuring my state senator would be only too happy to answer my questions. (No, I am not thrilled she co-sponsored the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, but that’s another topic.) I spoke with David Hantman, an aide in Senator Feinstein’s office. “I would say those emails are very effective,” he says.
    Read the rest here >>

    the Transtheoretical Model

    A while ago I wrote about The Stages of Change (aka the Transtheoretical Model) in an explanation of how many vegans experience some "relapse." I said:
    Most vegans get to a point where they "gave in" and ate the cheese (or the sausage or whatever). They feel guilty and wonder if they can be vegan again. These people need encouragement. Of course they can get right back up on the wagon and be vegan again! Relapses "are an inevitable part of the process," remember?

    Moreover, the presence of a few ex-vegans is not necessarily a sign of our movement reversing course, as some might say, but rather is simply a normal, natural process of change wherein some relapses occur.
    All of that is true, however, the Stages of Change may not be a good model for influencing people to become more compassionate and empathetic towards animals. In Change of Heart, author Nick Cooney writes:
    From the late 1970s through the present, researcher James Prochaska and colleagues created and developed what they call the Transtheoretical Model, a system that analyzes how ready a person is to adopt a healthy new behavior and that provides suggestions on how to direct that person from one stage to the next. The Transtheoretical Model (TM) is used by many public-health organizations in the U.S. and abroad, particularly for providing guidance in getting patients to stop smoking, drinking, using drugs, or having unsafe sex. Despite TM’s widespread popularity, meta-analytic studies of its research have shown it to be of little use in creating behavioral change (Riemsma et al. 2003; Horowitz 2003; Bridle et al. 2005; Aveyard et al. 2006; 2009). Unfortunately, many books and non-profits continue to promote TM as an effective approach for changing behavior.
    Luckily, Cooney also says that "Although the Model itself seems to be of no use, the specific stages that Prochaska identified are worth looking at as a reminder of the stages most people go through in adopting new behaviors." Therefore, my original analysis was correct. These are stages that people tend to go through when adopting a new behavior, however these stages should not be used as a guide as to how to influence change.

    "Animal Tracker," an AR Data Gaphing Tool

    I think I'd forgotten to blog about this when it first came out. I remember staying up late at night trying all the options and being surprised by some of the results, talking to my husband about this or that bit of research data and showing him on the graph how different demographics compared to each other on various animal rights issues.

    Well, I've finally remembered to share it here. Mark Middleton at Animal Visuals created a graphing tool for the Humane Research Council. The tool lets you visualize data from HRC's Animal Tracker Survey, which is a survey that measures public opinions about animal issues.

    Take a look here: http://www.animalvisuals.org/data/animaltracker/

    Reading Change of Heart

    I am reading Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change by Nick Cooney. This book promises to change my activism. Here's part of the official book description:
    "Scientific research has generated a wealth of information on how people can be persuaded to alter their behaviors, yet this body of knowledge has been largely ignored by those working to improve society. Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change brings this information to light so that non-profits, community organizers and others can make science-driven decisions in their advocacy work. The book examines over 80 years of empirical research in areas including social psychology, communication studies, diffusion studies, network systems and social marketing, distilling the highlights into easy-to-use advice and serving as a psychology primer for anyone wanting to spread progressive social change."

    I expect that much of what I learn from this book will be useful to readers of this blog. Expect to see the review soon.

    Is PETA Effective?

    PETA is one of the most controversial organizations in existence. People love them, hate them, tolerate them, question them. If nothing else, PETA is effective at getting attention and inspiring debate.

    Even in Animal Rights communities, this question comes up over and over again:

    Does PETA help or harm the movement?

    It’s a difficult question to answer since PETA does so much and is involved in all kinds of campaigns. Moreover, few people or organizations take the time to measure efficacy. But one organization, The Humane Research Council, whose website is Humane Spot dot org, compiles and analyzes all kinds of information relating to effective strategies of the animal movement.

    In their own words,

    The Humane Research Council empowers fellow animal advocates with access to the research, analysis, strategies, and messages that maximize their effectiveness to reduce animal suffering.

    When it comes to PETA’s efficacy, The Humane Research Council has some information that can help us answer the question above. There are two studies that indicate PETA is effective, at least in some areas.

    Take a look:

    1. “The U.S. Pork Checkoff (managed by the National Pork Board) conducted four focus groups of children ages 9 to 14 throughout the United States and surveyed an additional 350 children online. More than half of those surveyed had heard of “animal rights” organizations and almost one fourth of these children reported that these organizations have impacted their meat consumption in some way. There was low awareness of PETA among the children, but it had a high impact on their meat consumption. One-third of respondents had heard of or visited the PETA website, petakids.com; of those who were familiar with PETA, one-third had seen a video about animal care or meat consumption. 53% said the web site/video impacted their meat eating habits.” (source)

    2. “[Another] study examined the impact of a graphic animal rights campaign launched by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) against alleged abuses on a corporate farm. It considered the impact of the campaign upon the credibility of the target of the campaign as well as the producer of the campaign.
    Results indicated that PETA’s attack message against abuses at corporate pig farms was effective in eroding the credibility of the corporate food-industry raising animals for consumption. At the same time, PETA’s credibility rose overall after participants viewed the PETA attack message.” (source)

    (Emphasis added)

    Neither of those studies indicates that the other PETA programs are effective. It’s even possible that certain campaigns are counter-productive. But the evidence against PETA – on the basis of ineffectiveness – simply doesn’t exist yet. So be wary of “experts” who claim that PETA “doesn’t work” or is “counter-productive.” They are likely basing their opinions on personal bias rather than actual science.


    Originally posted at Vegan Soapbox.

    5 for 5

    A new campaign to offer free vegan starter kits online through Craigslist is based on solid research. They offered the kits online and then followed up with a survey of those who requested the kits. The survey found that most kit receivers changed their consumption of animal products, with a net result of fewer animal products consumed.

    The campaign organizers say:
    we found that 5 minutes spent posting ads on internet sites lead to about 5 Vegetarian Starter Pack orders. Although the percentages quoted in the paragraph above are likely inflated a bit due to response bias (despite our attempts to minimize it, people who adopted changes were still probably more likely to answer the survey than those who didn't, and respondents may have over-represented the extent of change), consider the following: even if we completely ignore the huge number of animals spared by all of those who partially or significantly reduced their meat consumption, and just look at those who had gone vegetarian, simple math for five minutes of work indicates: 5 (Veg Starter Pack orders) x .03 (a very low end estimate of the percentage of people who went vegetarian; based on the data above it seems more like 5-7% than 3%) x 40 (approximate number of animals spared per year for each person who goes vegetarian) = about six animals per year spared a lifetime of suffering with just five minutes of work!
    Here's the link: http://www.eleafleting.com/take5save5/documentation.htm

    nonvegans think differently than vegans

    Some vegans watch Earthlings or Meet Your Meat and go vegan overnight, but most vegans went vegan slowly. I've long believed that the path most vegans arrive at veganism - the path that begins with reducing or eliminated consumption of mammals and then extends to birds and then to sea creatures and then extends beyond flesh to milk and eggs - is a path that follows a natural or logical progression of empathy extending out from our own kind to those who are similar to us.

    That is, it is common for humans to feel some empathy for cats, dogs, dolphins, horses, rabbits and other mammals like cows and pigs. Some people act on that empathy by eating only certain types of animals that they think of as dissimilar to humans (such as chickens or fishes). Some people act on that empathy by eating only animals who have been treated according to certain "humane" standards. Vegetarians extend the empathy and choose not to eat animal flesh. Vegans extend that empathy to reach all sentient species and refrain from intentional and unnecessary harm to them.

    But what gets someone who cares about animal suffering to make the leap into veganism?

    A recent study on empathy compared omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans. The study looked at the brains of vegans and nonvegans while showing them images of human and animal suffering. Among other findings, they discovered "a distinctive pattern of empathic response and emotional control in vegans."
    "while omnivores are characterized by a greater activation of the bilateral posterior MTG during both human and animal negative valence scenes, vegetarians and vegans have constantly an higher engagement of empathy related areas while observing negative scenes, independently of the species of the individuals involved" [...]

    "Collectively, our results reveal that distinct brain responses are evoked by emotionally significant pictures of humans and animals in people with vegetarian and vegan feeding habits, as well as between vegetarians and vegans, suggesting that different motivational factors might underlie their preferences and moral attitudes."

    What can a vegan advocate learn from this? The take-away, as I see it, is that nonvegans think differently than vegans. We don't just have different beliefs, habits, education, resources, etc. though we may have those, too; we literally process the knowledge of others' suffering differently. We literally think about animal suffering differently than omnivores.

    Hence, if we want to effectively advocate for animals, we can't rely solely on the reasoning that is most compelling to us. Nonvegans don't think like us. So we must include discussions that appeal to nonvegans. We must find ways to encourage animal rights that fit into nonvegans' paradigms.

    Crossposted at Vegan Soapbox