The Science Behind Animal Advocacy

All of us want to help animals in one way or another and it could be rescuing a dog or cat from a shelter, attending a circus that only features people, or buying a nut based cheese. Since we were children, our fascination with animals has continued to captivate us day by day. Now studies are available to aid us in our advocacy and lead us towards becoming effective campaigners for animals. It can be overwhelming to think about the how far we need to go for animals, especially those raised for food, but it is helpful to step back and think about the big picture. This helps us re-focus and think about how we can restructure our advocacy based off studies instead of just making assumptions.

As animal advocates, following the golden rule is very important and we should treat others the way you would want to be treated. Act respectfully, dress nicely, and listen to what the other person has to say. Bruce Friedrich has taken ideas from the corporate world and explains “you might think that certain people just aren’t reachable, but I can tell you from experience that some of the people who seem the least receptive are actually the ones who are really challenged and on the verge of changing their behavior. That’s why they react so defensively. We must always strive to respond with respect and kindness” (Friedrich).

Friedrich noted several key points from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Staying optimistic and approachable is vital. For example, while you are leafleting, a smile goes a long way and even if people do not take a leaflet, be sure to tell them to have a nice day. Getting defensive is easy when people do not seem to care, but you never know if (even that same day) they’ll change their minds and take a leaflet from someone else.


The front page of a vegan leaflet that features all messages.

At some point in your day to day advocacy, you might contemplate what messages are the most effective? Perhaps you debate this with a large group of people you are about to encounter or it might be one person that you know very well. The Humane League has conducted a multitude of studies that help us pinpoint exactly which messages are best when working with a small amount of information on hand such as a one page leaflet. Study results found that “a combination of animal and health messaging may be best for a general audience. A trio of animal, health, and environmental messaging may be best for targeting 18- to 24-year-olds” (Doebel & Gabriel, 2014). Everyone has different experiences and interests. When speaking with someone you have never met before, be sure to listen carefully to their concerns and then respond with your own positive personal experiences. Make sure that your discussion is well rounded and includes all of the messages (if you have very limited time with your discussion, answer any questions and then point out that the organization who created the leaflet has a website that they can go to for further information).

Veg recidivism is when a vegetarian or vegan backslides and begins eating animal products again. While enlightening those about the health benefits of a vegan diet is one important piece of the puzzle, unfortunately “former vegetarians/vegans were likely to stick with it less than a year with one-third lasting three months or less… when making a resolution to improve one’s health, people often start strong and quickly fade” (Norris, 2014).  I used to contemplate what would cause a vegan or vegetarian to backslide, because as far as I am concerned, veganism is a way of life and I cannot see it any other way. I have met quite a number of people who used to be vegan since I moved to Denver, and during a protest one Saturday, I was engaging in conversation with two men and one used to be vegan. When I asked why he was no longer vegan, he replied that he simply was hungry all the time. I laughed on the inside, because this was problem with a simple solution. Eat more vegan food.

A study in 2013 proved that “ethical vegetarians scored higher on the conviction instrument than health vegetarians and exhibited somewhat greater dietary restriction (significant when grouped by current motivation) and had been vegetarian for longer” (Hoffman, 2013). Friends, family, and people we have never met all have potential for becoming vegan. Sharing this optimism with others, and knowing that even those who backslide are willing to try again makes it worth the while since “more than one-third of former vegetarians/vegans said they are interested in resuming the diet” (Norris, 2014). If we hold meaningful discussions and get to the root of why they backslid, as well as provide new and interesting materials such as watching popular documentaries on veganism, then there is a higher success rate of that person reintroducing themselves to a vegan lifestyle.

Given the tools we have today from studies to help us focus on how to be better advocates for animals, we no longer have excuses on how we should behave or what messages to share. I believe that using science, we can lead the veganism movement forward in a manner that aligns with our beliefs.

To learn more about how to be an effective advocate for animals, please visit the links below where you can access additional articles and videos.


Additional Videos and Articles:

Farm Sanctuary

The Humane League



Doebel, S., & Gabriel, S. (2014, September 22). Report: Is one message or multiple messages more effective for inspiring people to reduce meat consumption? Retrieved May 04, 2016, from

Friedrich, B. (n.d.). Effective advocacy: Stealing from the corporate playbook. Retrieved May 04, 2016, from

Hoffman, S. R., Stallings, S. F., Bessinger, R. C., & Brooks, G. T. (2013, February 13). Differences between health and ethical vegetarians. Strength of conviction, nutrition knowledge, dietary restriction, and duration of adherence. Retrieved March 4, 2016, from

Norris, J. (2014, December 15). Humane research council survey on vegetarian recidivism. Retrieved May 04, 2016, from


Written By Alaina

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