Fighting "group-think"

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Have you ever found yourself in a situation where the majority of a group has taken a position with which you don’t agree? Instead of “speaking up,” did you remain silent, even though it made you feel uncomfortable? When individuals assemble in groups, profound changes often take place. It’s as if the group casts a spell over the individuals who compose it. By formulating a “group” mentality, it’s easier for individuals to support the group’s preset negative opinion, and that is what has happened to animal agriculture.

The textbook, “Psychology,” by Saul Kassin, gives this example: “In a control group, where subjects made their judgments alone, performance was virtually errorless. Yet subjects in the experimental group went along with the incorrect majority 37 percent of the time. This result may seem surprising, but recent studies too have shown that people conform to the responses of others on a variety of cognitive tasks (Larsen, 1990; Schneider & Watkins, 1996).”

“When people have the ability and motivation to think critically about the contents of a message, they take the central route to persuasion. In these instances, people are influenced by the strength and quality of the arguments.”

But here’s the clincher: “When people do not have the ability or motivation to pay close attention to the issues, however, they take mental shortcuts along the peripheral route to persuasion. In this case, people may be influenced by a speaker’s appearance, slogans, one-liners, emotions, audience reactions, and other superficial cues.

Animal rights groups have taken a page right from the textbooks and use it to convert an unsuspecting public to a specific thought process, because they know most people don’t pay close attention to – or have a clear understanding of – livestock production issues. They use reactionary words like “factory farm” and “cruel cages,” and disturbing images to evoke an emotional response from a largely unknowing audience.

Kassin writes, “Informational influence leads people to conform because they assume the majority is correct. In the case of normative influence, people conform because they fear the social rejection that accompanies deviance. For good reason. Research shows that people who stray from the norm are disliked and often are ridiculed and laughed at (Levine, 1989).”

The Humane Society for the United States has placed editorials, published news releases and pressured food companies with information that’s almost always taken out of context. And many of these companies have followed the path not because they necessarily agree, but because they don’t want the alternative of negative publicity that HSUS would surely provide.

While all of this is extremely frustrating, there are solutions:

  • We must put a name and face on animal agriculture, from an industry perspective as well as from an individual perspective; let people know what you’re doing on your farm to care for your animals and how you and your operation contribute to the community
  • We must continually look at how we operate, and make sure we’re implementing best practices, with a recognition that those practices change over time
  • We must remove the opportunity for criticism by explaining why we do the things we do, with animal welfare at the forefront

While facts, figures and research are important, the relevance and believability comes when the public knows you care about your animals, that you have their best interests in mind and that you’re a consumer just like they are.

Theodore Roosevelt was spot-on when he said, “No one will care how much you know until they know how much you care."

Tell us what you think – do you agree? What are you doing on your farm that others can emulate?

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Mn  |  September, 16, 2013 at 09:56 AM

Very interesting. Group-Think vs Wisdom of the Crowd Both have more than a dozen studies supporting their position. ie 12 man jury more often correct than 1 man expert, the judge. One thing is clear, 2 opposing groups with extreme differences ie animal rights vs agricultural interests the correct answer is almost never provided by either, but lies between.

Kansas  |  September, 16, 2013 at 03:55 PM

SOB, your premise and conclusions assume parties are purely rational, free of emotional bias and have the purity of universal good intentions & no self-interest. Can you show evidence of this anywhere on the animal rights extremists' side? As we've seen again and again , their Ends justify their Means and they have shown to be liars and to have engaged in illegal practices (HSUS Vs Feld) - even violent crime (alf). In addition, as you may have noticed from the HSUS trolls regularly appearing here, personal attacks - false accusations - and nothing short of bitter, vicious hate-speech are in abundance. Not a sign any of them wish to engage in a debate based on objective facts or truth. This column is an excellent start for producer understanding of The Enemy we face, but more details and more aggressive defense strategies must follow. BTW - I have served twice on juries in criminal cases, one a murder trial. I can say that your claim is flawed, in that 12 citizens can be turned into group-thinkers by clever lawyers. However, juries are still the best of the worst.

Rachael Bannister    
Ga  |  September, 17, 2013 at 12:37 PM

And how is one Group Think different from the other? Group A thinks Factory farm ,cruel cages, accepted practices and disturbing images of Group B are not acceptable. Group B thinks accepted practices of farming and meat production,disturbing images should be accepted by all because that is the way we do it.

Kansas  |  September, 17, 2013 at 02:16 PM

That's easy Rachael, group B has actual, proven science and over 100 years of experience & evidence to support their practices. Your group a. has a couple of decades of cult leaders creating a following of true-believer zealots who deny science, claiming anyone who disagrees with them is a tool of evil corporations. If it weren't for the 10$ of million$ these cults have bilked from gullible, low-information urbanites, and their packs of lobbyists, lawyers and publicists, they would have been rebuked and rejected like Luddites and Eugenicists. That's how they're different, rachael.

rachael bannister    
Georgia  |  September, 17, 2013 at 05:02 PM

Not taking sides with the issues of Farmers and Ranchers and the HSUS. Just asking a question? Are Cult leaders,zealots, bilked, gullible,low-infomation urbanites,packs of,publicist, Luddites,Eugenicists, not reactionary words? Don't both Group A and B use reactionary words to entice the desired effected from thier audience as is stated in the article? That is all I am asking.

Iowa  |  September, 20, 2013 at 12:49 PM

If we take a close look at livestock producers efforts and detailed care on the vast majority of families on livestock farms it looks similar to how good parents care for there children. . farmers are always looking for better more protective methods. In my opinion over 90 percent of the farms with animals are providing high quality care 7 days a week , so most of the world population can have the weekends off and still have high quality protein choices to grill daily. The pork producers in this group use individual maternity pens and provide the individual care that eliminates all fighting and bullying from sometimes 600 pound sows( back in 1960s our farm's sows didn't have life so good in the barn yard group housing that was hot and sometimes in the winter 30 below zero. Dairy farmers provide individual car in may of the same ways today as well and also provide protection from the extreme temperature swings . We farmers do need to educate the poor caretakers just as the schools educate our youth to reduce bullying . The tactics now used by Vegans (HSUS , PETA, and like groups) are To eliminate meat availability not improve animal care.


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