For Veg*n Messaging, Timing Matters
Moral persuasion is a key to social movements. But when it comes to meat consumption, there is a clear disconnect between what people say and what they actually do. Indeed, in recent surveys, almost half the public has stated support for a ban on factory farming and slaughterhouses — and yet, people continue to eat a lot of meat. So, what successfully changes hearts and minds and brings people into alignment with their own stated beliefs?
Researchers in this study conducted a randomized control trial on the effect of pro-vegan pamphlets on a college campus. Pamphlets have long been a part of social movements. Today, they are inexpensive to produce and may stand out by the very fact they are not digital. Researchers recruited two sets of students during the spring and fall semesters of 2019. As part of the registration process for the project, each student received one of two pamphlets. “Compassionate Choices” contained a pro-vegan message urging students to stop eating meat to improve the welfare of animals used for food. “The Cruelty Behind the Cuteness” served as the control for the experiment and discussed puppy mills.
Once each participant pool was set up, data was collected on actual food purchases in the college dining services. The study collected over 200,000 data points across 685 students. Each represented a meal purchase categorized as beef, chicken. Fish, or vegetarian. One month after the project began, participants were emailed a link to a short Qualtrics survey. Questions covered demographic data, current diet, recall of the pamphlet information, views on farm animal treatment, and lifestyle changes. Of the 685 original subjects, 338 completed the survey. Those who ate less meat were more likely to complete the survey.
The data was analyzed to see if the pro-vegan pamphlets influenced dietary choices. Unfortunately, the pamphlet produced no statistically significant reduction in meat consumption in the overall sample. However, a more detailed analysis did produce some valuable findings. Disaggregating the data by gender and time showed a small, short-term reduction in meat-eating. Men consumed less fish and chicken while women ate less beef during the semester of the intervention. And interestingly, self-reported vegetarians still ate meat in almost one-fifth of their meals (17.5%).
Combining the survey and purchase data created perhaps the most valuable insights. Respondents who self-reported as vegetarian, who indicated they were thinking more about the treatment of animals, or who said they were willing to make big lifestyle changes did indeed reduce their meat consumption. For the veg*ns, the effect was immediate, while those in the other two groups took about a month to change their diets. This suggests that the pamphlets were most effective on individuals already primed for change. For advocates working on veg*n advocacy, these results show the superior efficacy of carefully targeted messages. Connecting at just the right time may make it more likely that a person will be receptive and ready to move towards a veg*n lifestyle.