Saturday, November 22, 2014

Applying Social Psychology to Vegan Outreach: Decision Paralysis

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. Thus far, I have discussed what makes for an effective messenger, what channels are most appropriate, and some ways to improve the message. This past week I have been highlighting concepts that can help or hinder persuasion.  One common barrier to effective persuasion is something known as decision paralysis.

Too many choices can hinder behavior change

Decision paralysis happens when there is simply too much choice, people become overloaded, and, thus, make no decisions at all (Heath and Heath 2010).  Less choice, counter to common sense, is actually better than more choice (Swartz 2004).  This was exemplified in an experiment that offered in-store samples of a few jams versus many jams. When customers had too many jams to pick from, they were less likely to purchase. It was too hard to come to a decision. What's more, the availability of alternatives means that the decisions that are made tend to be less satisfying because we tend to look back on "what could have been."  See Schwartz's TED talk on the subject for a deeper discussion.

This information is particularly damning for how Nonhuman Animal rights is framed.  In an article I published in Food, Culture & Society, I argue that professionalized Nonhuman Animal rights groups offer way too much choice.  At any given time, for example, PETA, Mercy for Animals, Compassion Over Killing, and Farm Sanctuary are offering ten or more campaigns to support. The reason they do this is probably to increase their fundraising, but it likely has the effect of overloading their audience to the point of inaction.

For the Vegan Toolkit
Condense available choices


C. Heath and D. Heath.  2010.  Switch:  How to Change Things When Change is Hard.  New York, NY:  Broadway Books.

Shwartz.  2004.  The Paradox of Choice:  Why More is Less.  Harper Perennial.

Wrenn, C. and R. Johnson.  Forthcoming.  “A Critique of Single-Issue Campaigning and the Importance of Comprehensive Abolitionist Vegan Advocacy.”  Food, Culture & Society.