Posted on January 25, 2015
One common approach to vegan advocacy is to encourage people to change their diet in order to spare farm animals from a lifetime of misery. Photos of farm animals, both suffering farm animals and happy farm animals, are — not surprisingly — used extensively by vegan advocacy groups in social media posts, websites, and printed materials.
But what types of farm animal photos have the greatest impact on the general public? What types of farm animal photos are most likely to cause the public to want to move toward vegan eating?
In order to find out, we presented omnivores aged 18 and older with a random selection of 10 photos out of a set of 30 total farm animal photos. The photos used are representative of the kinds used in vegan advocacy materials. Each photo was shown one at a time, and the viewer was asked to rate how much the photo made him or her want to stop eating animal products. As secondary measures of impact, the viewer was also asked how much the animal(s) in the photo suffered, and how human-like the animal(s) in the photo were. These secondary measures were used because the perception that animals suffer and the perception that animals are human-like have both been shown (in unrelated research) to cause people to want to reduce their animal product consumption. Each score was recorded separately. Ratings were then analyzed to compare each photo individually, as well as to compare groups of photo based on four categories: type of photo content; species of animal; number of animals; and age of animal.
Approximately 800 participants aged 18 and up took part in the study.
What worked well:
- Photos of sick or injured animals were on average the most effective type of photo for causing people to want to stop eating animal products. These were followed by photos of animals who were dead or being killed, with photos of animals kept in tight confinement placing third.
- Photos of pigs were on average more compelling than photos of other species. Photos of chickens and turkeys were next most compelling, possibly because there is a greater availability of photos of diseased, dead/dying, and intensely confined chickens and turkeys than there is of cows.
- Photos of individual animals were on average more compelling than photos of groups of animals.
- Photos of baby animals who were suffering were on average more compelling than photos of adult animals (or animals that appear to be adults).
What did not work well
- Photos of happy animals uniformly did not work well at generating intentions to reduce animal product consumption.
- Overview shots of hundreds to thousands of animals in factory farm or feedlot settings were notably less compelling than photos of individual animals or small- to mid-size groups of animals.
- Photos of fish were less effective than photos of other species.
Notes for consideration
- Among photos of chickens and turkeys, photos that focused more on the dirtiness, death, and disease appeared to be more compelling than photos depicting confinement and crowding.
- Photos of cows may be compelling but more research is needed to determine what makes them more or less compelling. Photos of a dead calf and a disfigured cow scored highly, but other cow photos did not.
Overall scores for each photo are shown below. (To view the photos used in the study, scroll down to download the full report. Photos are courtesy of Mercy For Animals, Animal Equality, Farm Sanctuary, Compassion Over Killing, The Humane Society of the United States, and the Creative Commons.)
Below are the six most impactful photographs:
The results suggest that when sharing photos of farm animals, vegan advocates will be most effective at inspiring people to want to change their diet when they use: photos of diseased/injured or dead/dying animals; photos of pigs, or of sickly/dead/dying chickens; photos of individual animals; and photos of baby animals. When dealing with non-captive audiences, advocates should keep in mind the tradeoff that more graphic photos appear more effective at driving intended diet change, but more graphic photos are also more likely to cause a non-captive audience to turn away and not read the remainder of the content vegan advocates want them to consume.
Photos of happy farm animals in and of themselves and not very effective at driving intended diet change. While happy animal photos likely play an important role in vegan advocacy materials (for example, they may work very well for initially drawing in viewers, or for initially humanizing animals before discussing the cruelty done to them), they should not be expected to do the brunt of the work in actually driving diet change. While photos of fish and of factory farm overview shots may have benefits, they too are less effective and should not play a starring role.
Lastly, as all of the photos tested in this study are usable by vegan advocacy groups (after securing permission from the advocacy group, photographer, or stock site that owns them), we encourage vegan advocates to consider using several or many of the top-ranked photos in their advocacy materials.
Full Report and Data Set
|Document (with link)||Description|
|Full report||Note: it is large pdf file (21 MB)|
|Supplementary Table 1||Excel spreadsheet|
|Supplementary Table 2||Excel spreadsheet|
|Data set||SPV file|