The Dark Side of Going Vegan
This advert by the animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) aims to convince people, particularly those identifying as males, to adopt a vegan lifestyle. This is done by attempting to portray the male in this video as some sort of vegan sex god who can pleasure both himself and his partner to a much greater extent thanks to following a plant-based diet.
As we all know, sex sells; and this advert attempts to turn people to the vegan side by creating an association between going vegan and developing unrivaled sexual superpowers. The power of association and associative casting (whereby a link between the intended behavioural change and an already desirable outcome is made salient) as a persuasion technique has been documented by many researchers such as Staats and Staats (1958). However, the main problem with PETA’s advert is that the association doesn’t only appear to be between veganism and incredible sex, but also between veganism and domestic violence, physical abuse and sadness. As the grand majority of the population (I hope) would be totally against abuse of any sort, this negative association between going vegan and becoming a ‘wife-beater’ is detrimental towards PETA’s aims of getting people to jump on board the vegan bandwagon. Research by Cooper and Jones (1969) has shown how a negative association is detrimental to people altering their behaviour as they try and dissociate themselves from this negative idea.
Staat and Staat’s (1958) experiment provides supporting evidence for the use of association for persuasion. This study involved participants viewing a set of countries presented to them one at a time. Each country was paired with another word. This other word could be either positive, negative or neutral and was only paired with a country once. This was done to create an association between the countries and a feeling of positivity, negativity or neutrality, although participants were blind to this purpose. After this association creating stage, participants rated their feelings towards the country on a seven-point scale, with 1 being pleasant and 7 being unpleasant. The same method was repeated but instead of using countries, names were used. The names and countries that were associated with positive or negative words were counterbalanced to ensure it was the association causing any differences in pleasantness ratings and not participants preconceived feelings towards these words.
As this table shows, when a country or name is associated with positive words, they are rated as more pleasant and when they are linked with negative words they are rated as unpleasant. Group 1 received ‘Dutch’ and ‘Tom’ with a positive word association whereas Group 2 was counterbalanced and viewed ‘Dutch’ and ‘Tom’ with negative word associations.
Staat and Staat’s (1958) experiment shows how an association between a neutral idea (perhaps veganism) and something positive (amazing sex) or negative (physical abuse) can influence people’s perceptions of the previously neutral idea. In my opinion, the negative association in this video is more salient than the positive and therefore people would associate veganism with unpleasant feelings.
To improve this advert, PETA could keep the association between veganism and good sex, but remove the visual and implied aspects of violence and the sad music. Alternatively PETA could create an association between veganism and something else such as a healthier, happier, eco-friendly and more compassionate life.
Staats, A.W., & Staats, C.K. (1958). Attitudes established by classical conditioning, The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 57(1), 37-40.
Cooper, J., & Jones, E. E. (1969). Opinion divergence as a strategy to avoid being miscast. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 13, 23-30.