Sunday, November 23, 2014

Applying Social Psychology to Vegan Outreach: Age

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. Today I discuss the role of audience. It is essential that advocates recognize that the population is very diverse. There is no one-size-fits-all tactic.

Vegan Outreach maximizes efforts by targeting young people

As we have seen in previous explorations into successful (and unsuccessful) persuasion techniques, cultures, subcultures, and individuals themselves will vary in responsiveness.  This essay looks specifically at how changes in the individual's lifespan can be an important consideration.  For the most part, attitudes are generational (Sears 1976).  That is, the attitudes formed in youth tend to hold constant throughout an individual's life.  Research has found that attitudes are most receptive to change in one's teens and early twenties (Krosnick, J. and D. Alwin 1989).  However, older individuals are certainly not completely immune to cultural shifts and can experience liberal attitude change as well (Danigelis and Cutler 1991).

Right away, we can see why so many vegan outreach organizations target college students.  Given that resources are so limited, it makes sense to focus efforts on a younger audience.  This is not to say that efforts would be lost on other audiences, but if the choice must be made between leafleting on a college campus and a community center, the college campus would probably extract a greater return.  The influence of cultural shifts on those more resistant to attitude change is also promising.  Those who were past their twenties during major liberal shifts in the United States (such as the Civil Rights movement), were still found to be relatively less conservative.  Therefore, focusing on the younger population will have a direct impact on that younger audience, but it should have a positive, indirect impact on older individuals as well.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Target teens and young adults

Danigelis, N. and S. Cutler.  1991.  "An Inter-Cohort Comparison of Changes in Racial Attitudes."  Research on Aging 13 (3):  383-404.

Krosnick, J. and D. Alwin.  1989.  "Aging and Susceptibility to Attitude Change."  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 57:  416-425.

Sears, D.  Life Stage Effects Upon Attitude Change, Especially Among the Elderly.  Manuscript prepared for Workshop on the Elderly of the Future, Committee on Aging, National Research Council, Annapolis, MD, May 3-5.