On the uttering of coping strategies to deal with cognitive dissonance regarding eating animals

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


To facilitate more ethical food consumption, social movements aim at behaviour change by feeding consumers information that confronts them with problematic aspects of their current behaviour and/or promotes ethical behaviour. However, changing behaviour is even more difficult than understanding it. One aspect that needs special attention in this regard consists of the often negatively judged verbal reactions (‘justifications’) that occur instead of the desired behaviour change. When consumers decide on the complex matter of the (non-)acceptability of keeping and killing animals for food, chances are high that contradictory cognitions and drives get simultaneously primed. When this – deemed uncomfortable – ambivalence gets dissonant enough, the discrepancies between cognitions, drives and regularly performed actions may lead to a change in intention and behaviour; however, the innate drive to reduce the discomfort of cognitive dissonance often leads to the expression of coping strategies: pieces of framing used to feel good – or less bad – about contradicting aspects of a decision. Though arguably only the person doing the decision-making can truly assess whether a certain uttered frame was a coping strategy, in literature several characteristic coping strategies are documented, therewith providing a way for researchers to recognise them in framing. In the context of deciding on eating animals, I will discuss four classic coping strategies used to reduce dissonance, and four to oppress dissonant cognitions or drives and/or avoid their priming altogether. Moreover, I will introduce two less commonly acknowledged ways to deal with dissonance, that seek to accept, balance and optimize ambiguous situations instead of seeking to (dis)solve them. Noticing cognitive dissonance can help change-makers uncover the paradoxes or contradictions that are present in society that both block the way to change as well as provide windows of opportunities for achieving it. I will conclude by discussing opportunities and limitations of pointing out coping strategies in facilitating more ethical food practices and provide alternative routes of dealing with coping strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSustainable governance and management of food systems
Subtitle of host publicationEthical perspectives
EditorsE. Vinnari, M. Vinnari
PublisherWageningen Academic Publishers
ISBN (Electronic)9789086868926
ISBN (Print)9789086863419
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sep 2019

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    Nijland, H. J. (2019). On the uttering of coping strategies to deal with cognitive dissonance regarding eating animals. In E. Vinnari, & M. Vinnari (Eds.), Sustainable governance and management of food systems: Ethical perspectives (pp. 176-181). Wageningen Academic Publishers. https://doi.org/10.3920/978-90-8686-892-6_24