Saturday, November 1, 2014

Applying Social Psychology to Vegan Outreach: Persuasive Messengers

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. 

In celebration of World Vegan Month, I am presenting a daily blog series applying the science of social psychology to vegan outreach. I begin this series with a discussion of persuasion to be divided into research on the messenger, message, channel, and audience.  Today's article will focus on the messenger and five variables that increase the messenger's persuasiveness:   Credibility, expertise, trustworthiness, attractiveness, and liking.

As a conventionally attractive and likable person with considerable expertise as a professor, researcher, and president of a successful non-profit, Dr. Neal Barnard exemplifies a persuasive messenger.
Credibility, Expertise, and Trustworthiness

Credibility is essential to successful persuasion and can be earned by demonstrating expertise and trustworthiness.  Messengers that are knowledgeable and can speak confidently can improve this image, but the audience may not respond if messages are contrary to their preexisting beliefs.  Trustworthiness can be achieved if persuasion and bias are not detected by the audience. Good eye contact and fast speech also increase trustworthiness.

Attractiveness and Liking1

A messenger can be more effective in simply being attractive or liked.  Physical attractiveness increases persuasiveness, as does the messenger's similarity to the audience.  Mimicking the body posture of those receiving the message can also facilitate a sense of similarity and increase persuasiveness.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Improve knowledge; keep up to date on issues
  • Recognize the audience's preexisting beliefs; adapt message or choose more receptive group
  • Improve public speaking skills
  • Invite discussion; avoid overbearing persuasion efforts
  • Improve personal appearance; adapt appearance to mimic that of the audience
  • Maintain eye contact and mimic the posture of audience members

1. I recognize that "attractiveness" is a very gendered, racialized, and class-based social construct. I report the research, but recognize that attractiveness norms are problematic and should be challenged.


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Chaiken, S.  1979.  "Communicator Physical Attractiveness and Persuasion."  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37:  1387-1397.

Hemsley, G. and A. Doob.  1978.  "The Effect of Looking Behavior on Perceptions of a Communicator's Credibility."  Journal of Applied Social Psychology 8: 136-144.

Kahan, D., H. Jenkins-Smith, and D. Braman.  2010.  "Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus."   Journal of Risk Research 14:  147-174.

Krisberg, K.  2004.  "Successful 'Truth' Anti-Smoking Campaign in Funding Jeopardy:  New Commission Works to Save Campaign."  Medscape.

Miller, N., G. Maruyama, R. Beaber, and K. Valone.  1976.  "Speed of Speech and Persuasion."  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 34:  615-624.

Walster, E. and L. Festinger. 1962.  "The Effectiveness of 'Overheard' Persuasive Communications."  Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 65:  395-402.