U.S. Beliefs About Chickens And Fish & Their Relation To Animal-Positive Behaviors
Animals used for food generally receive significantly less attention and funding than companion animals (Faunalytics, 2019). Small-bodied animals like chickens and fish are killed in particularly massive numbers—there are over 200 times more chickens killed each year than cows, and over 3,000 times more fish killed than cows (Faunalytics, 2020; Sentient Media, 2018; The Economist, 2011).
Several reasons for this relative neglect have been proposed. Generally, these small-bodied animals are viewed as less intelligent and less “like us” (Batt, 2009). For example, chickens lay eggs, as do most fish. Chickens have beaks. Fish don’t breathe air. These differences are thought to make the suffering of these animals seem more distant from our own, and therefore make care and empathy for them less likely.
The current study was created to help answer important questions regarding these animals: which beliefs do the public have about small-bodied animals, and which of these are associated with animal-positive behaviors? Specifically, we looked at how a number of beliefs related to both a willingness to sign a petition to reduce the suffering of each animal and a diet pledge to reduce the consumption of each. We believe that by answering these questions, advocacy efforts can become more targeted and effective.
That said, this is just the first step in our program of research dedicated to Reducing Fish and Chicken Suffering. We will build on these preliminary results and see if they can be used to help animals. For example, future studies may investigate whether we can shift any of these beliefs in order to help small-bodied animals.
- Some pro-animal beliefs are already reasonably common–for example, most people understand that air and water quality are important to chickens and fish. These findings suggest that education on these topics is probably not needed, but that these beliefs can be invoked as necessary. For instance, showing people pictures of dirty farm living conditions may be effective in shifting perspectives further.
- The beliefs that had the largest correlations with signing a pledge to reduce fish consumption were that fish are more intelligent than people give them credit for, that many farms have horrible living conditions, and that fish are loving. Focusing advocacy efforts on bolstering these fish-related beliefs may be the most effective way to obtain dietary pledges to reduce consumption.
- The beliefs that had the largest correlations with fish welfare petition signatures were that they are more intelligent than people give them credit for, that they are beautiful, and that many fish farms have horrible living conditions. Advocates working on petitions for fish welfare may want to incorporate these themes in their messaging and presentation.
- The beliefs that had the largest correlations with signing a pledge to reduce chicken consumption were that chickens are beautiful, that they need room to explore and exercise, and that they are loving. Those trying to get people to reduce their consumption of chicken may want to focus on these themes.
- The beliefs that had the largest correlations with chicken welfare petition signatures were that chickens need room to explore and exercise, that many chicken farms have horrible conditions, and that chickens are more intelligent than most people give them credit for. Advocates working on corporate campaigns may find messaging around these beliefs leads to an increase in petition signatures for chicken causes.
- People were more likely to sign the petition than to take the dietary pledge. People were more likely to sign a petition that calls for welfare reforms than to take the diet pledge to reduce their own consumption. We also found that people who eat more of each animal were less likely to take the diet pledge to reduce their consumption than those who eat less already. However, these high consumers were no less likely to sign a petition to help improve conditions.
- Try messaging around the top beliefs to see if you can improve your advocacy efforts. Based on these findings, messaging around the personality, emotions, suffering, and intelligence of these animals will likely lead to the best results, even outside of the context of diet pledges and welfare petitions. Slightly different beliefs were also important for each animal and each outcome. Therefore, we’d suggest focusing on the strongest messages in each group of beliefs, trying them out, and keeping track of their effectiveness in order to get the best results!
- Try stacking your asks. People were more likely to agree to sign a petition than to take a diet pledge to reduce their consumption. If you have interest in both outcomes, try asking for the petition signature first, and then go for a diet pledge after they’ve signed the petition. This may help increase diet pledges due to something known as “behavior consistency”—people generally want to be consistent in what they do, so following one successful ask with another related ask may increase uptake. Be careful to avoid overloading people with requests, though.
- Check back for more recommendations and data from other countries as our program of research focusing on chickens and fish continues. We plan to examine these beliefs in other countries, and then to use experimental research to provide stronger recommendations about how these beliefs can be leveraged to alter behaviors. Although we have provided preliminary recommendations in this report, an experimental comparison of the most common and strongly associated beliefs is needed to see which can be used most effectively. Stay tuned for more from our line of research into small-bodied animals!
This project was completed by Tom Beggs and Jo Anderson. We are grateful to our donors for funding this work, and indebted to the advocates who provided ideas on what beliefs people hold about these animals. Thanks to Thomas Billington and Haven King-Nobles from the Fish Welfare Initiative, Susanna Lybæk from the Norwegian Animal Protection Alliance, and Yip Fai Tse from Mercy For Animals.