ACE Interviews: Hal Herzog
ACE supporter and psychologist Diana Fleischman interviewed Hal Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University who has been studying human-animal interactions for the last thirty years. Here are some of the highlights from that interview.
Fleischman: What research or ideas from psychology do you think it’s most important for animal activists to be familiar with?
Herzog: I think there’s a couple of areas. The first is some of the work in social psychology, especially the research on dehumanization. Some of the researchers who are working on how people respond to ingroups and outgroups are applying their theories how we think about other species. Another area is moral psychology. I became interested in moral psychology through the work of Jonathan Haidt through his book The Happiness Hypothesis and his research on disgust and moral judgment. I was interested in the question of “Are animal activists more likely to be disgustable? Does disgust motivate them?” And Lauren Golden and I did a study and found out that this idea was to some extent true. In his latest book, The Righteous Mind, Haidt has some pretty practical tips on how to change attitudes. If you were to ask me what would be the most important, accessible, and useful book in terms of thinking about the best way to change attitudes, I would say The Righteous Mind.
Another book, for folks like yourselves that are actually doing survey research, I would suggest is Don Dillman’s work. I’d never heard of him until I started working with Scott Plous, a really good social psychologist, about 15 years ago. We were designing surveys of individuals serving on university animal care and use committees, and one of the first things Scott said to me was, “well you’ve got to read Dillman.” Dillman has come up with ways of designing effective surveys so that you get very high response rates and the data’s good. In terms of research methodology, I’m a huge fan of Dillman.
Fleischman: Considering the far future, do you foresee an end to animal use? Do you think, as some do, that our descendents will be appalled that we ever ate meat?
Herzog: That’s a good question and I think that is a possibility. I have high hopes for in vitro meat. I think it was really smart of PETA to do that that million dollar challenge where they would give a million dollars to the first group that could make an in vitro (petri dish) hamburger. I don’t agree with everything PETA does, but I thought that was a good idea. I would love to go to the grocery store and buy a hunk of tasty flesh that was never part of an animal. I have some hopes for artificial meat.
In terms of changing people’s moral codes, that’s a tougher one. I think maybe in the far future, but not in the near future. I don’t see the number of vegetarians rising dramatically in the next ten or fifteen years.