Friday, November 7, 2014

Applying Social Psychology to Vegan Outreach: Two-Sided Appeals

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. This first week I have been discussing how the message can be improved in the careful facilitation of particular feelings.  Today I specifically discuss the use of two-sided appeals.  Utilizing two-sided appeals means acknowledging the opposite argument in your message in order to improve credibility.

As with any persuasive measure, audience matters.  If your audience is not aware of the opposing argument or if your audience already agrees with your message, two-sided appeals are not necessary.  It is likely that most audiences will already be aware of the many counterarguments against adopting veganism, as most (even young children) have been heavily socialized to take the exploitation of other animals for granted as normal and natural.  So, for most audiences a two-sided appeal may be appropriate.  But, if you are addressing an audience that is already vegan or is at least predisposed to veganism, two-sided appeals may not be needed.  Research suggests that, if your audience already agrees, it is actually a one-sided appeal that will strengthen attitudes.

In many cases, confronting a counterargument head on does tend to increase persuasiveness.  In one study that tested the persuasiveness of recycling signs, signs that addressed the counterargument were more effective:  "It may be inconvenient, but ..." Vegan Outreach has a pamphlet that utilizes this method (Even if You Like Meat...).  Unfortunately, instead of pushing a clear vegan message, the pamphlet suggests individuals reduce their consumption of other animals and their products.  Abolitionists could easily tweak this approach for a more ethically consistent message.  One suggestion:  "I know this will entail a substantial change to your lifestyle, but veganism is a moral imperative."

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • If your audience agrees, use one-sided appeal
  • If your audience doesn't agree, use a two-sided appeal and address counterarguments

Hovland, C. , A. Lumsdaine, and F. Sheffield.  1949.  Experiments on Mass Communication.  Studies in Social Psychology in World War II (Vol. III).  Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press.

Jones, R. and J. Brehm.  1970.  "Persuasiveness of One- and Two-Sided Communications as a Function of Awareness There are Two Sides."  Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 6:  47-56.

Lumsdaine, A. and I. Janis.  1953.  "Resistance to 'Counter-Propaganda' Produced by One-Sided and Two-Sided 'Propaganda' Presentations."  Public Opinion Quarterly 17:  311-318.

Werner, C., R. Stoll, P. Birch., and P. White.  2002  "Clinical Validation and Cognitive Elaboration:  Signs that Encourage Sustained Recycling."  Basic and Applied Social Psychology 24:  185-203.