Posted on September 22, 2014
Developing effective materials that inspire the public to reduce their meat consumption depends on crafting the right message. One question for advocates is the following: is it better to focus on one reason to do so, or to provide multiple reasons?
Most vegan advocacy organizations focus on multiple reasons to eat vegan, discussing the animal welfare, health, and environmental benefits. But academic studies have found that using a single reason can sometimes be more effective than using multiple reasons when trying to get people to act altruistically. Therefore, we wanted to test whether using one message or multiple messages was more effective at inspiring people to reduce meat consumption.
In this study participants were presented with one of four pages. Each page encouraged readers to cut out or cut back on meat consumption, but focused on different reasons to do so. Page A focused on animals. Page B focused on health. Page C discussed the animals, health, and the environment. Page D discussed animals and health.
After viewing the page, participants were asked several questions about if and how they intended to change their diet. Their answers were translated (by us) into the number of days of farm animal suffering that would be spared if they made those changes. Each participant was also offered a free Vegetarian Starter Guide that they could receive if they provided their email address.
A total of 798 participants aged 18 and up took part in the study.
When it came to people’s stated intention to change, presenting several messages appeared to be slightly more effective than focusing on the health message alone.
Presenting several messages also appeared to be much more effective than focusing on just the cruelty done toward animals. However this may be because the animal cruelty page focused only on pigs. People who saw this page did plan to reduce red meat and poultry consumption a lot, but they had less interest in reducing egg consumption and they planned to eat more fish. A flier that covered not just pigs but also chickens, egg-laying hens, and fish might have performed much better.
Here are the number of days of farm animal suffering that would be spared by an average person who had viewed one of these pages:
|Days of suffering spared|
|Animals and health page||178|
|Animals, health, and environment page||154|
|Animal cruelty page (pigs only)||92|
Only the difference between the first and last of these reached statistical significance.
Among younger respondents (those aged 18-24), using multiple messages worked also seemed to work much better than using a health-only or animal cruelty-only message. Because of the small sample size of young respondents though, this conclusion is not necessarily reliable and the differences did not reach statistical significance.
In addition to asking about people’s intention to change, we also asked if they would like to receive a free Vegetarian Starter Guide. This was done so we could measure not just intention to change, but also how likely people were to take a specific action step toward reducing meat consumption.
Here are the percentage of viewers of each page who submitted their email address to order a Guide:
|Ordered a Guide|
|Animals and health page||22%|
|Animal cruelty page (pigs only)||21%|
|Animals, health, and environment page||18%|
None of these differences reached statistical significance, so there may be no difference in how effective each message is at inspiring people to take a tangible step toward vegetarian eating. However the animals and health combination message and the animal cruelty message appear marginally more effective than the health-only message.
Among younger respondents the animal cruelty only page appeared marginally more effective at driving orders, although there was no statistically significant difference between that and the pages with multiple messages. The health-only page was less effective than the other three.
The study suggests that when it comes to promoting meat reduction, whether we use one or several messages may be less important than the specific messages used.
In the context of a short presentation, such as a one-page leaflet, focusing on multiple messages appears to be more effective than focusing on just the health message. It is unknown whether this would also hold true for longer materials like books and movies.
Focusing on multiple messages also appears to be more effective than focusing on just animal cruelty, although it’s possible those results are due to how this study was designed. Including content on fish, chickens, and egg-laying hens might have boosted the impact of the animal cruelty message, but we do not know for sure or how much. One thing the study does clearly suggest is that discussing only the cruelty done to pigs (and perhaps cows too) appears to be a lot less effective than focusing on multiple messages.
Overall, this study suggests that a combination of animal and health messaging may be best for a general audience. (And, as we saw in an earlier study, focusing a larger percentage of this combination on animals may be better than the other way around). A trio of animal, health, and environmental messaging may be best for targeting 18- to 24-year-olds. Because the differences between a combination and trio message were so small, it is unclear which is actually more effective for either audience.
It is possible that future testing could find that, when chickens and fish are also discussed, focusing just on animal cruelty is most effective. Unless and until that is shown though, the safer and more effective approach seems to be to focus on both animals and health, and for younger audiences the environment as well.
Full Report and Data Set
|Document (with link)||Description|
|Full report||Includes images of pages used in the study (pdf)|
|Data set||SPV file|