Aligning Actions with Beliefs: Veganism and Cognitive Dissonance

As ethical vegans, we are always trying to educate others and inspire them with our actions to emphatically commit to the vegan lifestyle like we do, but more often than not, our pleas fall on deaf ears.

It turns out that it’s not enough to discuss the evils of factory farming, the enslavement, torture and death of millions of animals, the disease-inducing Standard American Diet and the negative environmental effects of consuming animal products. Despite our best efforts, most people will not change unless they are ready and willing to commit to a different path. 

But can this internal process be encouraged?

Despite our best efforts, most people will not change unless they are ready and willing to commit to a different path

What is Cognitive Dissonance

Ok, stay with me through the theoretical chit chat, and I promise you won’t regret it.

The term cognitive dissonance refers to the feeling of discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs. If you’ve ever lied or cheated on an exam, but view yourself as an honest person, you’ve probably experienced cognitive dissonance.

As human beings, we seek consistency in our beliefs and attitudes, and when there is a conflict between behavior and belief, something must change in order to eliminate or reduce those feelings of discomfort. This is a powerful motivator and usually leads to a willingness to change one’s behavior without feeling pressure from or persuaded by someone else to make different choices.

How to use Cognitive Dissonance to encourage Veganism

Cognitive dissonance is particularly evident in situations where a person’s behavior conflicts with beliefs about himself or herself that are integral to his or her self-identity, and it can be used in the argument to go vegan. For example:

Tom considers himself an animal lover, he rescues shelter animals and participates in fundraising events and protests for other endangered wildlife.

BUT, Tom consumes animal products and these actions have him participating in the enslavement, torture and death of farm animals.

Tom may be unaware, based on his cultural norms, that rescuing shelter animals but consuming farm animals is a form of moral relativism and is inconsistent with his beliefs about himself as an “animal lover”.

If this is brought to his attention and the discomfort is profound enough, Tom can reduce the conflict between belief and behavior by choosing to abstain from the commodification of all animals in all aspects. He can choose to eschew all animal products and align his morals and ethics with his lifestyle by accepting veganism as part of his natural evolution.

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Helping others make the connection: There are many inconsistencies and conflicting beliefs that if are gently brought to someone’s attention might provoke a process of discomfort which can result in change.

Another example could be a person who believes that skinning animals for their fur is terrible, and yet at the same time wears and buys animal skin in the form of leather shoes or bags; or a person who would never order foie gras since they believe that animals should not be tortured for food, and yet doesn’t give a second thought to consuming veal, despite the fact that it is the result of another form of torture.

There are many inconsistencies and conflicting beliefs that if are gently brought to someone’s attention might provoke a process of discomfort which can result in change. 

You can’t change everyone

At the heart of many forms of persuasion, cognitive dissonance lends itself toward changing beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviors. The tension can be created suddenly or slowly built up over time, leading to many small, periodic changes or one large, systematic change. And, of course, there are those individuals who, despite your best attempts at persuasion, will not feel that tension associated with cognitive dissonance.

Some individuals will selectively expose themselves to information that endorses their attitudes and avoid information that challenges them as justification for their actions, but if you do know someone who is sensitive and has an open heart and an open mind, kindly challenging him or her to take a look at whether his or her actions are aligned with his or her beliefs just may do the animals and the planet some good.

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Written by

Writer & ReviewerContent Manager

Maria Mooney, MSW, LSW, is a raw vegan licensed social worker, certified holistic health coach, research and editorial assistant at KrisCarr.com. Visit Maria's website to learn more, and follow her on Twitter @HappyHealing44

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