NGOs often vary in terms of how radical they are. In this paper, we explore the effectiveness of NGO discourses in bringing about social change. We focus on animal advocacy: welfarist NGOs primarily seek to improve the conditions in which animals are raised and reduce meat consumption, while abolitionist NGOs categorically reject animal use and call for a vegan society. We design an experiment to study the respective impact of welfarist and abolitionist discourses on participants’ beliefs regarding pro-meat justifications and their actions, namely their propensity to engage in the short-run in animal welfare (charity donation, petition against intensive farming)and plant-based diets (subscription to a newsletter promoting plant-based diets, petition supporting vegetarian meals). We first show that both welfarist and abolitionist discourses significantly undermine participants’ pro-meat justifications. Second, the welfarist discourse does not significantly affect participants’ actions, while we detect a potential backlash effect of the abolitionist discourse. We show that the NGOs’ positive standard effect on actions through the change in beliefs is outweighed by a negative behavioral response to the discourses (reactance effect). Last, greater public-good contributions are associated with greater engagement in animal welfare in the presence of an NGO discourse.
IAST working paper, n° 20-115, novembre 2020