Science explains why we can’t have a serious discussion about animal welfare…

How many topics of discussion can you think of where disagreements are as likely to become personal and vicious as animal welfare? One? Two? None? And have you ever wondered why, despite our ever-growing knowledge of animals and animal care, somebody changing their mind on an animal welfare issue — even when presented with concrete facts to the contrary — is such a rare occurrence? Well, wait no further — science may have just uncovered the answer…

It’s the insults, stupid:

In other words, it appeared that pushing people’s emotional buttons, through derogatory comments, made them double down on their pre-existing beliefs.


The emotions come faster than the “rational” thoughts—and also shape the retrieval of those thoughts from memory. Therefore, if reading insults activates one’s emotions, the “thinking” process may be more likely to be defensive in nature, and focused on preserving one’s identity and pre-existing beliefs.

This is why we can't have nice things.

Why we can’t have nice things.

Don’t believe the findings? Then how about next time you’re having a discussion online about animal welfare issues, you take a step back when the trolls arrive (this usually occurs within 2-3 minutes) and observe for yourself what happens once the fur and the slurs start flying. Do these attacks actually convince anybody of anything (“While I initially disagreed with your position on, I find your ad hominems oddly compelling…”), or do they only serve to “rally the troops,” put opponents on the defensive, and ultimately prevent any real discussion from occurring?

Ah, if only the well-reasoned and researched discussion of complicated issues were as simple and instantly gratifying as trench warfare with the trolls. Unfortunately, pummeling isn’t nearly so effective as persuasion. Science says so.

  • Lisa K

    I’ve also wondered why people engage with known trolls. Okay, you’ve been on this board for a year, you know person X is only here to cause trouble, yet you activly engage him every time. I guess it’s the equivalent of a dog on a tug toy.

    • TomKi

      Knowing the emotional trap is different from breaking out of it, and the trolls are trained to make use of that fact.

      • LoupGarouTFTs

        Exactly. Sometimes trolls just continue to escalate when no one responds. At some point the person either needs to accept that they need to respond or let his or her reputation besmirched, sometimes in the presence of people who they respect.

  • Actually, this makes a LOT of sense if you apply the same reasoning to the political sphere. It explains why people continue to hold, and defend, beliefs that have been thoroughly debunked by real live data.

  • TrumpKennels

    LOL! so true.

  • mish

    What science? Where are you getting your info?

  • Laura Bell

    A balanced approach, and also “roll playing” in discussions, usually works better to open-up dialogue, get people talking about their position and opinion, find out if and where we have common ground, and also allows us to often learn somet…hing we didn’t know, or perhaps we never thought about something that way, hadn’t “seen it” through someone else’s eyes, etc.

    And when there is a “negative”, there is almost always the polar opposite of “positive”, but rather than live, regard, and study issues only from one side or the other, it can be a more balanced approach to study issues from the “middle ground” position and try to come up with “win-win” scenarios for everyone and everything, even though we may have to act like honest, ethical, compassionate, honorable, and fair-minded adults and realize there may, probably will, have to be some compromise in order for everyone to be “winners”.