Investigating the moral licensing effect of meat reducing petitions on personal meat avoidance pledges
“We found no evidence of moral licensing from signing meat reduction petitions when it comes to personal meat reduction. In other words, signing a petition for the government to limit meat in public catering did not make people less likely to commit to a personal meat-free week. This supports the view that advocating for institutional meat reduction is unlikely to harm advocacy for individual meat reduction.. – Chris Bryant & Annie Hancox
Does campaigning for institutional change in farmed animal agriculture give consumers a ‘moral license’ to consume meat?
Are people consistent in their public and private behaviour?
These were the questions at the center of a study by Bryant Research and the University of Bath.
Researchers Chris Bryant and Anna Hancox provided 435 participants from the UK with information on the environmental impact of meat consumption.
Participants were then divided into two groups. Both groups were asked whether they would pledge to undertake a meat-free week, while Group 1 only was also asked if they would support a petition asking the UK government to implement one meat-free day per week in all public catering.
The authors were looking for evidence of a moral licensing effect, which is the phenomenon whereby people who commit a positive or altruistic act feel less compelled to commit further positive or altruistic acts, because they feel they have given themselves ‘moral license’. Conversely, there could be a moral consistency effect, whereby people are likely to behave consistently with respect to both requests, since they are similar and appeal to similar people.
To test for the moral licensing effect, the authors tested whether participants who chose to sign the petition would be less likely to pledge than those in the control group (who did not see the petition).
To test for a moral consistency effect, the authors tested whether participants who chose to sign the petition would be more likely to pledge a meat-free week than those who did not sign the petition or the control group (who did not see the petition).
At a first analysis, it emerged that those who signed the petition and those who did not see the petition at all, were more likely to pledge than the ones who refused to sign the petition. However, it could not be demonstrated that the petition signers were more likely to pledge than the members of the control groups.
The authors conducted a second phase of the study for which 435 participants from the UK were involved. In this study the control group was allowed to see the petition, but not until after they had made a choice about pledging the meat-free week. Meat attachment and environmental attitudes were also measured as possible covariates.
The analysis showed that petition-signers were more likely to pledge the meat-free week compared to non-signers and compared the control group, whereas non-signers were less likely to pledge a meat-free week than signers and the control group. This demonstrated consistency between the decisions, and supported the moral consistency effect over the moral licensing effect.