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More Social Psychology

I wanted to share my second paper for my Social Psychology class with all of you. I also wanted to let everyone know that the factory farming presentation for my Communication class when great! We got 49/50 which, according to my professor is "one to hang on the refrigerator." Thank you all for all of your support! 

                                Social Psychology Action Paper

A big problem that I have come up against in my animal rights activism has been belief perseverance, the tendency for people to hold onto their beliefs even when they have been shown to be false. People go to great lengths to deny things that have been proven to be true time and again. An acquaintance of mine once said “People can’t live without meat.” This was someone who I had spoken to about the fact that I didn’t eat meat, and hadn’t eaten it in years. The fact that I exist is undeniable proof that people can live without meat. I have also heard people claim that animals don’t feel pain or don’t have emotions, despite the fact that anyone who has ever lived with an animal has surely witnessed those things on multiple occasions. Many people actually get angry when they watch undercover footage from factory farms. They will claim that the footage has been faked and that those things don’t actually happen.

In 1980 Lepper, Anderson and Ross conducted an experiment in which they asked participants to consider whether people who take risk or people who are more cautious would make better firefighters. The participants were then presented with an account of a risk taker who was an excellent firefighter and a more cautious person who was not. They decided that a person who is more likely to take risks would make a better firefighter. The group was then informed that not only do statistics show that more cautious people are better firefighters but that the stories they had been told were false. The participants stood by their original decision and presented various arguments for why risk takers would make better firefighters. This was proof that even in a situation like this, where the issue is not particularly important to the people involved, they stick to their beliefs. So how are activists supposed to convince people to give up false beliefs that have been a huge part of their lives since they were born? This is a question that, as of yet, we have been unable to answer.

Activism, like many other things in life, is based on persuasion. The only way to make a lasting difference for animals is to persuade people to change their lives. To do this we must change people’s attitudes about animals and animal products. We can do this through the central route by appealing to reason, or the peripheral route by offering superficial cues or engaging people’s emotions.

In 1979 Chaiken conducted a study in which students were asked to sign a petition to stop the serving of meat in the cafeteria. It was found that people were more likely to sign if asked by a more attractive individual. They responded to their immediate impression of the person, based on that person’s physical appearance. This was proof that the peripheral route can be effective for helping animals.

Many activists have recognized this phenomenon. Many animal rights groups use celebrities in their ads and PETA is known, and often criticized, for their use of attractive women, in little or no clothing, in their ads. It’s important for us to remember that this only works for some people though. I personally am more inclined to focus on the central route when trying to persuade someone. I always try to make sure that I have good arguments that are based on solid facts. I try to be as well-informed as possible about every topic concerning animal rights, so that people will consider me a credible source on the subject.

This is not to say that I never use the peripheral route though. In my opinion, the best way to convince people to change their lives is by appealing to their emotions. No matter how good your argument is, no matter how many facts you have, people will never be willing to make major changes if they don’t care about the cause. I have found that the best way to persuade people to stop eating meat is by helping them to feel for farmed animals the way they do for dogs or cats.

*Photo- Happy sheep at Farm Sanctuary. 

Image credit: Tobias Akerboom (at hutmeelz)

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  1. Akanksha
    Akanksha
    I agree with you Whitney. Persuasion is an art and there are many ways to do it. In fact, I am currently reading a book about persuasion without intimidation that is helping me a lot in my campaigns. Check out my post about habits that influence digestion and vote if you like...
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    1. Luella Berg
      Luella Berg
      What is the title of the book you're reading?
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      1. Akanksha
        Akanksha
        Its "The Art of Persuasion" by Bob Burg. It is not exactly a book for Vegans but in general about sales/marketing etc. But surely its principles can be applied here too!
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    2. Anita Vegana
      I hope you will write an article about that book here on The Flaming Vegan.
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      1. Akanksha
        Akanksha
        Didn't think of that...but yeah maybe...sounds like a good idea :) Thanks Anita!
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    3. Whitney Metz
      Whitney Metz
      Thank you very much! That book sounds like it would be very helpful. I will check out your post :)
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      1. Akanksha
        Akanksha
        Sure thanks. The latest one is a simple potato-tomato recipe!
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  2. Luella Berg
    Luella Berg
    Another excellent post, Whitney!
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    1. Whitney Metz
      Whitney Metz
      Thank you so much Luella!
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  3. Anita Vegana
    I am glad your presentation went well! So, your teacher is not someone who sticks to his beliefs no matter what! Great! You raise several good points in this paper. When you say that some people stick to their beliefs no matter what are those that wait until they get a heart attack from eating too much meat, then even after the fact and even if they are told by their doctor to slow down, they will just continue with their habits just because they can't admit they were wrong. I know people like that and unfortunately one has a very important role in my life: my mother. Nothing will make her understand veganism, even if you appeal to her emotions. What some organisations say is, when confronted by this type of person, move on. Don't bother because they will only change their minds when they decide to do so, and often it takes something earth-shatteringly huge, such as the death of a loved one. Even then, it may not be enough. You're better off working with those that have an inclination towards animal-friendliness and work your way to making them understand that eating meat is wrong. There are enough of those out there to keep us busy and to slowly get the ball going. I voted. Please stop by my new article, Sundried Tomatoes and Roasted Pine Nuts Pasta, and vote if you enjoyed it. Thank you.
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    1. Whitney Metz
      Whitney Metz
      Thank you very much Anita! It is truly amazing how stubborn some people can be in their beliefs. I'm very sorry about your mother. I know how hard it can be when people you care about don't understand the things that are important to you. I would advise you not to give up on her though. After many years, both of my parents have finally given up meat. I will check out your article :)
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  4. SnakeWitch
    Persuasion is very delicate partly, as you say, that there are several ways of doing it and some work on a part of the population while turning off another group. I think Greenpeace is a great example of this - they do a lot of media work by doing crazy actions to get attention, then get a load of negative feedback because they disrupted things. They do make things move sometimes, but it's hard to know which type of action will work best for which city and which country. Or, the effects may show up much later, like their first ever action: they wanted to stop nuclear testing in Alaska in 1971 and were stopped by an American ship along the way. The bomb went off for the test they were trying to stop, but the Americans received so much negative attention from around the world that they had to stop and cancelled all other tests afterwards. Sometimes, it's almost as risky as playing the lottery. Sometimes, the waters are easily tested. Voted! When you have the chance, check out my article about the former star of Blossom and current star of The Big Bang Theory! Cheers!
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    1. Whitney Metz
      Whitney Metz
      I agree. It can be extremely difficult to decide how best to try to persuade someone, and often even harder to determine whether you made the right decision or not. Greenpeace is a great example. With organizations like that, it can be hard to tell whether all of their publicity is actually helping the cause or not. Hopefully after a few more psychology classes I'll have a better idea of what is most helpful :) I enjoyed your article. Voted.
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  5. BuddhasDelight
    BuddhasDelight
    great article. i agree, appealing to people's hearts, their innate compassion is key. blessings! voted. :)
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    1. Whitney Metz
      Whitney Metz
      Thank you so much!
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  6. Veganara
    Veganara
    Voted. Great blog Whitney, I get really frustrated by this psychological phenomenon you describe too, that people will persist in denial if they want to believe something, no matter what evidence to the contrary. As you say, often the peripheral route is the best way to go with persuasion and influence - with certain stubborn, egotistical people it can be a very long, slow, gradual, tortuous process. You really need to appeal to them on a deep heart level, not just their minds. You might be interested in my latest blog, A Cathartic Story, which is on a historical theme, but which also takes in psychology and theology! (I am interested in all those subjects!)
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    1. Whitney Metz
      Whitney Metz
      Thank you very much Maggie! I know what you mean. It is so very frustrating when you try everything you can think of to change someone's mind and they still insist on believing the same lies they have been living by their whole lives. I really enjoyed your blog. Voted and commented :)
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  7. Anita Vegana
    Whitney, come read my article Let's Make This Piggy Fly. You may like it.
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    1. Whitney Metz
      Whitney Metz
      I enjoyed your article. I loved that video! Voted.
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  8. barblarsen
    barblarsen
    Nice paper Whitney ... you might want to look at the works of Cialdini for some interesting ideas on the art of persuasion :-)
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