Monday, November 10, 2014

Applying Social Psychology to Vegan Outreach: Channel

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 audience. Over the course of this week, I have covered various ways to improve vegan messages through the facilitation of emotions, reason, and proper placement.  Today I discuss the channel, or, how the message is disseminated.

Face-to-face persuasion increases the probability of behavior change
A message can be broadcast by face-to-face contact, video, audio, or written word. Speaking with people in person seems to be the most effective overall.  Medical practitioners have found that they can improve the health habits of their patients by speaking with them in person as opposed to simply handing them brochures.  Vegan tabling and presentations are thus advantageous. This approach has its limits, however. In one study, only 10% of participants were able to recall church sermons on egalitarian attitudes.

Visually-based channels can also be effective, but only for certain types of messages. Complex messages are easily lost if viewers become distracted by other things going on in the video, like the actors, flashing lights, etc. Morally shocking images favored by advocates and non-profits may thus have shortcomings. Indeed, many viewers become preoccupied in the shock value of Nonhuman Animals suffering and do not absorb vegan or anti-speciesist arguments.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Give preference to face-to-face channels
  • Avoid visual channels for complex messages
  • Use written forms for complex messages


Chaiken, S. and A. Eagly 1983.  "Communication Modality as a Determinant of Persuasion:  The Role of Communicator Salience."  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 45:  241-256.

Crawford, T.  1974.  "Sermons on Racial Tolerance and the Parish Neighborhood Context."  Journal of Applied Social Psychology 4:  1-23.

Eldersveld, S. and R. Dodge.  1954.  "Personal Contact or Mail Propaganda?  An Experiment in Voting Turnout and Attitude Change."  In D. Katz, D. Cartwright, S. Eldersveld, and A. Lee (Eds.), Public Opinion and Propaganda.  New York:  Dryden Press.

Farquhar, J. et al.  1977.  "Community Education for Cardiovascular Health."  Lancet:  1192-1195, June 4.

Maccoby, N.  1980.  "Promoting Positive Health Behaviors in Adults."  In L. Bond and J. Rosen (eds.), Competence and Coping During Adulthood.  Hanover, NH:  University Press of New England.