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

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