When you’re tabling at an event, have you ever wondered if veg pledges are effective? It takes extra effort to print out the forms, make them available to the public, and then encourage people to sign the pledge. Is it worth it? Do people follow through on their commitments? In this AR Trends article, we’ll take a look at whether and why veg pledges are an important tool for activists.
Are pledges effective?
Recently, a group of researchers wanted to get to the bottom of whether or not making a commitment leads to actual behavior change (Lokhorst et al., 2013). To find their answer, they dug into the environmental literature and reviewed 19 scientific studies. The studies tested if pledging to do a specific pro-environmental behavior (e.g., recycling, riding the bus, conserving water, etc.) resulted in more positive behavior change than not being asked to pledge. The results were clear: those who were asked to make a commitment were more likely to change their behavior than those who weren’t asked to make a commitment. Even after the pledge period ended, those who took the pledge were still engaging in more pro-environmental behaviors than those who didn’t pledge. It appears that pledges are an effective tool for behavior change, both in the short- and long-term, and are worth the extra effort.
Why do they work?
So we now know that pledges can be effective…but why? Let’s take a brief look at three of the major theories. Understanding why pledges work can help us optimize our pledge forms and programs.
People are generally socialized to be consistent. This means that when they voluntarily follow-through on a behavior, they conclude that the behavior must be a reflection of their self-concept. For example, let’s imagine that a man takes a pledge to switch to reusable shopping bags. As he buys the bags and begins using them, he’ll start to see himself as someone who cares about the environment. This change in self-concept is thought to be one of the reasons for long-term behavior change.
A very similar idea to the previous theory is that people bring their attitudes in line with their behavior. When a person pledges to engage in a new behavior and actually follows-through, over time s/he will generate reasons why the behavior is good, thus developing a positive attitude toward the behavior.
The final theory has to do with social pressures, that is, concerns about what others think. In most societies, not keeping one’s commitments is frowned upon. Therefore, when people take a pledge, especially one that is public, they feel a sense of obligation to keep their word.
Taking veg pledges to the next level
Based on the 19 research studies, as well as the theories on commitment, Lokhorst et al. (2013) came up with several recommendations for improving the success of pledges. According to the researchers, commitments should be:
- Voluntary–not coerced or pressured
- Active (e.g., writing a statement or putting one’s signature on a pledge form)
- Public or publicized
- Hard to deny (i.e., pledgers should include their name as opposed to making the pledge form anonymous)
- Kept fresh in people’s minds (e.g., follow-up with feedback, support, and resources)
- Social (i.e., encourage pledgers to commit to recruiting a friend, neighbor, or family member. Not only does this increase reach, but by persuading others, those who pledged will further persuade themselves)
- Fun (it’s much easier for people to adhere to a commitment if they enjoy it!)
With these general tips in mind, what are some specific ideas you have for making vegan pledges more effective? Please comment below.
Check out VegFund’s list of recommended veg pledges!
Lokhorst, A.M., Werner, C., Staats, H., van Dijk, E., and Gale, J.L. (2013). Commitment and behavior change: A meta-analysis and critical review of commitment-making strategies in environmental research. Environment and Behavior, 45(1), 3-34.