Monday, March 28, 2011

Interview with Nick Cooney

This week on the blog, I'll be interviewing Nick Cooney, head of The Humane League, about his book, Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change.

Nick is a long-time activist with a wide-ranging background. You can read the 2007 profile he did for VO here, and his post on psychology and booklet titles here.

It has been a pleasure to work with him over the years. I hope you find the interview useful.


There are thousands and thousands of vegan and advocacy books out there. What made you decide it was worth your time to write Change of Heart?

You're right, there are a number of books that have been written on how to organize to create change for animals (or social change in general). And while a few of these books are very helpful, one thing that was always missing was any sort of hard science about what works and what doesn't when it comes to persuading others. Animal advocates often find themselves in disagreement with one another over what messages and approaches are most effective. For example, should we use graphic imagery of animal suffering or should we use images of cute, happy animals? Should we encourage people to make small changes and progress to larger changes, or should we encourage them to make large changes (such as veganism) from the start? And what types of messages are most convincing in getting the public to go veg?

Ask ten animal activists these questions and you'll get some very different answers, with each person having arguments and anecdotes to support their point of view. What I wanted to do with Change Of Heart is to cut through all these personal opinions and find out what the scientific record shows. Researchers in the fields of psychology, sociology, communication studies, and a few other areas have conducted tens of thousands of studies on what does and does not help in persuading others to do what we'd like them to do. By taking their results and applying them to our animal advocacy work, we can become a lot more effective and save many more lives. Change Of Heart is meant to be a psychology primer for activists, a road map of how people's minds operate and what we need to do to persuade them to live more compassionately.