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


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.