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Social Psychology
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Social Psychology

So I'm back in college now. I'm majoring in psychology, mostly because I feel that the best way to convince people to change their behavior is by understanding why they behave that way in the first place. Anyway, I recenty had to write a paper for my social psychology class. Of course, I managed to make my paper more about animal rights than social psychology. So I thought I would share it with all if you. 

 

                                  Social Psychology Action Paper

I am an animal rights activist, and am very interested in how social psychology affects the animal rights movement. I think it is the most important determining factor in the way people think about nonhuman animals. Two concepts that I think are particularly important are priming and the fundamental attribution error, priming as an obstacle that we must overcome in society and the fundamental attribution error as a mistake that many of us tend to make when dealing with the public.

 

Priming refers to the increased accessibility of certain schemas due to recent experiences. Higgins, Rholes and Jones conducted a study in which participants were asked to memorize a list of words and then, in a supposedly unrelated task, they were asked to read a paragraph about “Donald” and make a judgment about what kind of person he was. Those who had memorized a list of negative words judged him negatively, while those whose lists had contained more positive words judged him more positively. Demonstrating that, even when the words were not relevant to what they were doing, the priming greatly affected their judgment.

 

I think priming may pose the greatest challenge to animal rights activists, when it comes to outreach. Thanks to advertising from animal enterprises, specifically animal agriculture, our whole society is constantly being primed to think of nonhuman animals as commodities. It is very difficult to convince people to see animals as individuals when everywhere they look they see advertisements with the opposite message. Not only are we primed to think of animals as nothing more than a source of food, we are actually made to believe that they like it that way. A great many animal products use cartoons of happy, smiling animals on their packaging as if nothing could make the animals happier than becoming someone’s meal. This constant priming produces a mindset that is incredibly hard to overcome, and makes things very difficult for those of us who are trying to change the way people think about animals.

 

The fundamental attribution error is the tendency for people to overemphasize dispositional, or personality-based, explanations for behaviors observed in others while underemphasizing situational explanations. In 1967 Edward Jones and Victor Harris conducted a study in which they asked participants to read essays people had written regarding their feelings toward Fidel Castro. The participants automatically assumed that the authors believed what they had written and even after they were informed that the authors had been told whether to write a positive or negative essay they still believed that the authors had meant what they had written. This showed that even when they were made aware of the outside influence, the participants still tended to judge the character of the authors rather than their circumstances.

 

The reason I believe the fundamental attribution error is so important for the animal rights movement is that, I feel, many of us activists have a tendency to fall victim to it. For those of us who support animal rights, it is very hard to understand why other people don’t. Knowing how horrible the conditions are for animals in factory farms, labs etc. we can not understand how people can possibly still support these industries. At times it can be very hard not to think of them as “bad” people. I think it is extremely important for us not to forget the magnitude of the influence societal factors have over people’s lives and the decisions they make. Most people are not “bad” and thinking of them that way will only make it harder for us to reach out to them and help them to become more sympathetic to the suffering of nonhuman animals.

 

 

* Photo- Maria from Farm Sanctuary's Animal Acres. 

Image credit: Tobias Akerboom (at hutmeelz)

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  1. Veganara
    Veganara
    Voted. Awesome article Whitney! I have noticed the phenomenon that you mention as well, the systematic desensitisation of individuals, so that they have no problem with using/eating animals, as they view them just as commodities, and it is not necessarily their fault that they do. The fundamental mistake a lot of vegans/ARAs make is viewing omnivores as the "enemy" and "bad" people, as you say, and that kind of hostile, militant approach does not work! Influencing omnivores is a very subtle and nuanced process, I always feel. I have just posted a new recipe btw, for vegan quesadillas, so do have a look at that if you have time, thanks! :-)
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    1. Whitney Metz
      Whitney Metz
      Thank you so much Maggie! I agree completely. Your recipe sounds amazing. Voted.
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  2. Anita Vegana
    ... "Of course, I managed to make my paper more about animal rights than social psychology". I just want to mention that I think animal rights is a part of psychology, and you went on to describe it very well! Good for you for taking the initiative to do this! I hope you get to do an oral presentation on this, too. I know enough about psychology to have read about the priming phenomenon, which of course marketing gurus have caught on to quite a long time ago. However, I wasn't aware of the Fidel Castro experiment and even though I should've known, I am quite shocked that people actually let themselves be influenced by the awesome penmanship of the authors. When I was in high school, we called this "the art of bullshitting". Politicians are excellent at this art as well, yet people recognize their lies easily! Oh, the amount of things that could be said about this form of legal and subtle manipulation... All of this to say that I enjoyed reading this piece of your paper and I voted. I wrote an article that seems to be a bit controversial, called Veganism and Capitalism. You might or might not like it. Let me know by commenting and vote if you want to!
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    1. Whitney Metz
      Whitney Metz
      Thank you Anita! It is very disappointing to me to watch how easily people are manipulated and they don't even see it, mostly because they don't want to. I loved your post! I couldn't agree more!
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      1. Anita Vegana
        Thank you! And all we can do is try to let them know. If they don't want to see it, they don't want to. My parents still don't accept my veganism or my choice to eat organic, and my mother continuously gives me handouts from Environment Canada about the dangers of eating organic food or from her nursing books about lack of protein or iron... To her, the stuff about animal torture is a conspiracy to make people stop eating meat to make them ill. Feel free to read my new post about different types of vegan and organic materials. You may know about them already, but if you like it, vote! Thanks!
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  3. SnakeWitch
    I love reading about psychology. You made several very good points here. Voted! Do you want to read about Wall-e? Just kidding. My article is about the 3Rs. Hope you like it!
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    1. Whitney Metz
      Whitney Metz
      Thank you! I enjoyed your article. Voted.
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  4. Akanksha
    Akanksha
    That is a great approach..understanding the psychology behind behavior gets you out of the complaint mode. That is where you can begin to contribute!
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    1. Whitney Metz
      Whitney Metz
      Thank you very much! That's how I feel about it too. Hopefully one day I will understand enough to make a real difference.
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  5. Katapoet
    Katapoet
    Nicely done, Whitney! Voted! Also, I just posted my thoughts on making friends in the movement, Together Hood. Check it out if you would like. Thanks!
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    1. Whitney Metz
      Whitney Metz
      Thank you! I loved your article! Voted.
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  6. Virtually Homemade
    Virtually Homemade
    I'm very impressed. keep up the good work. On a lighter note - check out my falafel recipe post and vote if you like. Voted:0
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    1. Whitney Metz
      Whitney Metz
      Thank you very much! I will check it out!
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  7. Veganara
    Veganara
    That is a very significant comment Anita, that your mom thinks all the AR campaigns are just part of a conspiracy to turn people against meat, to make them ill! I am sure that is how a lot of people see it: that it is all one big conspiracy, that really we ARAs/vegans are trying to destroy the world, not save it! It' s amazing how inventive people are in coming up with these theories, to avoid facing an uncomfortable truth that is staring them in the face and clamouring for their attention. This does not just apply to the way humans treat animals, but to a lot of other situations too. For example, the person who stays in an abusive relationship with someone who is treating them really badly, but they convince themselves that person "loves" them really, and ignore all the advice from family and friends to get out. I think humans can convince themselves of anything, if they really want to. Sometimes it takes a major crisis in their life, or an epiphany, to make them face and acknowledge the truth.
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    1. Anita Vegana
      My brother had a heart attack and my dad has high blood pressure and type II diabetes. I'm just waiting for hte news that one of them is dead anytime soon... and this hasn't changed my mom's opinion one bit. She also has major problems with her shoulders because she is a very busty woman for her petite frame, and she refuses to have a breast reduction surgery. Get my drift? Nothing makes this woman change her mind about anything. I'm sad to say that she's the type who's always right, no matter how obvious it is that she's wrong.
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      1. Veganara
        Veganara
        Yes, I do get your drift Anita. It is really sad, isn't it? Some people have to be right about everything, because somehow to change their mind about anything, admit they were wrong, admit that things change, is too scary for them. That is one of the problems we have with trying to influence people.
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        1. SnakeWitch
          Heart attack, blood pressure and type II diabetes? And here I am complaining that my brother's type I diabetes wasn't enough for my parents to wake them up!
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  8. Roopam
    Very interesting read...the concepts you described would possibly work otherwise also to analyze behavior. Voted! I look forward to your future posts. Do take a look at my latest recipe on potatoes coconut curry and do vote for it if you like.
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    1. Whitney Metz
      Whitney Metz
      Thank you very much! I will check out your recipe.
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  9. Veganara
    Veganara
    I have just seen this awesome article, which explains the phenomenon we have been discussing, how people can blatanty ignore what they don't want to see. Have a look at this everyone, I find it very inspirational: "Feeling Threatened: Afraid Of The Truth Most of us have had the experience of being in possession of a piece of truth that we were afraid to share because we knew it would not be well received. There are also instances in which we ourselves have been unable to handle some truth confronting us. This might be a small truth, such as not wanting to see that our car needs repairs because we don’t want to pay for them, or a large truth, such as not fully accepting that someone close to us is pushing us away. Usually the truth is evident, and we can see it if we choose, but we have elaborate ways of hiding the truth form ourselves, no matter how apparent it is. For the most part, we avoid the truth because it scares us, or makes us angry, or makes us feel like we don’t know what to do. We often create our lives based on a particular understanding, and if that understanding turns out to be fully or even partially incorrect, we may feel that our whole sense of reality is being threatened. It takes a strong person to face the truth in circumstances like these, and many of us run for cover instead. Nevertheless, we can only avoid the truth for so long before it begins to make itself known in ever more forceful ways. Ultimately, there is no way to avoid the truth, no matter how painful it is, so the sooner we let down our defenses, the better. When we know the truth and accept that we may have to adjust our lives to accommodate, we are in alignment with reality. At the same time, we can be patient with people around us who have a hard time seeing the truth, because we know how painful it can be. Whatever the truth is, we make a sincere effort not to close our eyes to it, but instead to be grateful that we have access to it."
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    1. SnakeWitch
      That is a well written piece, Veganara. I believe this. I'm sure Kristo would agree with me that moving to a new country has its moments! But it was worth it. And it's the same with people who are confronted with new information. This whole thing reminds me of Plato's cave. Remember that tale?
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      1. Veganara
        Veganara
        I think so! It's a hypothetical story about some people kept in a cave all their life, so they couldn't believe there was anything, any world, outside the cave? Something like that? Yes, that is a good analogy.
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        1. SnakeWitch
          Close, you have almost all the details. Inside the cave, they saw shadows of the people and objects on the walls and thought that was the truth. They were locked up in the cage so never could go outside to confirm that those little black things were really how things are. When they were finally liberated, they ran outside and were so shocked by what they saw that they ran back into the cave and stayed there forever because it was *comfortable*.
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      2. Veganara
        Veganara
        I think so! It's a hypothetical story about some people kept in a cave all their life, so they couldn't believe there was anything, any world, outside the cave? Something like that? Yes, that is a good analogy.
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        1. Veganara
          Veganara
          Ah yes, I remember it now. Yes, as you say, the truth often shocks people so much, that they would rather stay in darkness instead. Although darkness is so gloomy, it can also be comforting! Yes, great analogy; some people are able to do that, retreat into the cave; with others, they find the entrance to the cave barred, so they can't go back in, so they just have to live outside, however scary it is! That is what happened to me, and I don't mean just about turning to veganism and animal rights. I often wish I could go back into the cave, to be honest! I find that the more you know, the more you wish you didn't know.....
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          1. SnakeWitch
            Yes and no, right? It goes both ways. Imagine not knowing what you know, too. I find that just as scary. And yes, there are truths that I'd rather stay away from, but they're there. I see them. I can't ignore them anymore.
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            1. Veganara
              Veganara
              Absolutely, I couldn't agree more. As I say, I often wish I didn't know the truth about certain things, what humans do to animals and the planet, for example, but I wish that for selfish reasons, because knowing those things is painful to me, and I want to avoid pain, if possible! But, as you say, if I didn't know, I wouldn't be motivated to try to change the world, I would still be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. So yes, better to have the truth, however painful it may be. It's still better than living a lie.
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            2. Veganara
              Veganara
              Absolutely, I couldn't agree more. As I say, I often wish I didn't know the truth about certain things, what humans do to animals and the planet, for example, but I wish that for selfish reasons, because knowing those things is painful to me, and I want to avoid pain, if possible! But, as you say, if I didn't know, I wouldn't be motivated to try to change the world, I would still be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. So yes, better to have the truth, however painful it may be. It's still better than living a lie.
              Log in to reply.
            3. Veganara
              Veganara
              Absolutely, I couldn't agree more. As I say, I often wish I didn't know the truth about certain things, what humans do to animals and the planet, for example, but I wish that for selfish reasons, because knowing those things is painful to me, and I want to avoid pain, if possible! But, as you say, if I didn't know, I wouldn't be motivated to try to change the world, I would still be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. So yes, better to have the truth, however painful it may be. It's still better than living a lie.
              Log in to reply.
            4. Veganara
              Veganara
              Absolutely, I couldn't agree more. As I say, I often wish I didn't know the truth about certain things, what humans do to animals and the planet, for example, but I wish that for selfish reasons, because knowing those things is painful to me, and I want to avoid pain, if possible! But, as you say, if I didn't know, I wouldn't be motivated to try to change the world, I would still be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. So yes, better to have the truth, however painful it may be. It's still better than living a lie.
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  10. Cru
    I like this idea, and your enthusiasm. I would caution though about the idea of "Making" as in *making* people change their minds. The most effective and lasting way of change is for it to be their own idea, so you are helping them choose a better, different way because the truth is, few people today really choose their diets, they just do what they have always done, what they were raised to do, and what society and advertising support. For me, I knew for quite some time that things were not good, but I just did not have the extra available concentration to dedicate to even the idea of doing things differently because I was juggling so much I could hardly keep up with what I had to get through each day let alone trying to figure out how to be any different. So I would absolutely refuse, putting my hand up in front of my face saying, "I don't want to hear about it!" and close my entire being off because it was the only way I could make it through at the time. I tell this story for two reasons. One is that even though I was so closed off, it was still the efforts of those who [gently] approached that lingered, so when I was ready I was that much further along and open; and two, I believe many, if not most people are in the same struggle to make it through their world as they comprehend it to be. So, having that understanding and being compassionate to that (and them) as well, will ultimately help us to be more effective in reaching out. You might also like this recent book by one of the top peeps at Farm Sanctuary, "Change Of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change" which seems quite interesting as well as just what you are chasing (though you likely already know of it). http://www.changeofheartbook.com/ Your dedication has inspired me to seek leafleting opportunities. :)
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