The making of moral repugnance
Last registered on April 25, 2019

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
The making of moral repugnance
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0002658
Initial registration date
February 14, 2018
Last updated
April 25, 2019 12:28 PM EDT
Location(s)
Region
Primary Investigator
Affiliation
University of Toronto
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
University of Toronto
PI Affiliation
University of Toronto
Additional Trial Information
Status
Completed
Start date
2018-02-12
End date
2018-02-28
Secondary IDs
Abstract
A growing literature in economics, psychology, philosophy and law considers how changes in the moral beliefs of members of the public influence the array of available products and services, the functioning of markets, and the regulatory environment that shapes society. That literature has largely focused on moral beliefs evolving toward greater acceptance of activities and transactions that were previously widely believed to be immoral, for example same-sex marriage or the availability of a market for human organs. In contrast, the progression of moral beliefs in the other direction, from widely accepted to broadly shunned, has received little attention. The implications of evolving views on morality can be large and important regardless of the direction in which the views are changing. We aim to undertake a program of research to study the role of moral attitudes in people becoming more averse to widely practiced activities and transactions, starting by looking specifically at the role of information rooted in morality in that evolution.

We propose to conduct a series of experiments, some of which will test whether ethical information about an activity causes people to change their beliefs with respect to that activity, and others which will test whether information about an activity causes people to change their behaviour (i.e., likelihood to undertake or support that activity), and still others that examine whether various interventions rooted in behavioural economics cause people to change their beliefs and behavior. The specific case that we propose to consider in this first study is the consumption of a diet that includes animal products. We will explore the efficacy of "nudges" rooted in behavioral economics in shaping the attitudes and behaviors of study participants with respect to the consumption of animal products.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Citation
Feinberg, Matthew, Lisa Kramer and Nicola Lacetera. 2019. "The making of moral repugnance." AEA RCT Registry. April 25. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.2658-2.0.
Former Citation
Feinberg, Matthew et al. 2019. "The making of moral repugnance." AEA RCT Registry. April 25. http://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/2658/history/45491.
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Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
We will randomly assign each participant to one of six conditions. These conditions are the treatment groups A-D (described below) plus a control condition and a placebo condition.

Participants in the control condition will read text that describes the role of food in everyday life and no additional text. Participants in conditions A-D will read additional text that will be specific to the condition. The subjects in the placebo group will read a text unrelated to food; specifically, it will be a text about the importance of breathing clean air.

Additional text participants will read in conditions A-D:
A. Provide subjects with (factual) “social information” about dietary choices of the population, for example “thousands of people are adopting a plant-based diet”.
B. Put subjects in a “loss domain” state, with text that cites the average number of animals that die each year as a result of an individual eating a non-plant-based diet.
C. Put subjects in a “gain domain” state, with text that cites the average number of animals’ lives that an individual can save each year by adopting a plant-based diet.
D. Sentience/sapience/morality: Highlight animals’ ability to feel pain, and the fact that many standard farming practices inflict pain.

Next we will assess whether the provision of specific information affects opinions about eating animal-derived products. Within a set of general questions about attitudes, we will ask participants to indicate if a sentence like “If the taste and texture were identical to beef, I would be likely to eat a vegetarian burger” applies to them. This simple design will provide us with immediate self-reported information about whether attitudes change in the different conditions. The advantage of simplicity comes with the cost that the results would be based on “stated” rather than “revealed” preferences. Given also the nature of the question of interest, demand effects and social desirability biases are possible. This concern, however, is unlikely to be severe in our case because we are interested not only in the difference between the treatments and the control, but also in the differences between each of the individual treatments. To the extent that demand effects and social desirability biases are present in all conditions, looking at the differences would help “net out” this potential confound.

In addition to the above-described research questions, we will have all study participants complete the “Big Five” personality markers (Gosling, S. D., Rentfrow, P. J., & Swann, W. B., Jr. (2003). A Very Brief Measure of the Big Five Personality Domains. Journal of Research in Personality, 37, 504-528). Including these types of questions will help us determine whether key variables of interest regarding changes in dietary choice correlate with personality measures.

The main hypothesis that we are testing is whether the behavioral interventions and/or the provision of morality-based information leads to more aversion toward eating animal products. However, we may find different results. For example, views and habits with respect to diet tend to be stable and, we may find participants are impervious to information focused on eliciting moral concerns. Alternately, individuals may even resist information which conflicts with their baseline belief that their diet is morally acceptable, and perhaps cognitive dissonance or some other mechanism may cause them to become further entrenched in their current beliefs and behavior.

To test our hypotheses, we will examine whether there are differences across conditions in the attitude and behavior measures we include in the study.

To screen out invalid responses, we will have 3 coders go through participants' summaries of the message they just read and indicate (yes/no) whether they believe the participant has shown evidence that he/she read the assigned message. If all 3 coders unanimously agree that a participant has not shown evidence of having read the assigned message, then that participant will be removed. Otherwise, the participant will be included in all analyses.



UPDATE ABOUT ADDITIONAL INTERVENTION (APRIL-MAY 2019)

We are adding a second study with a similar structure to the original one, in order to test the impact on stated eating preferences of appeals to different moral values. We will have the following experimental conditions:

Control: Participants in this condition will be assigned a short reading with generic information of the eating habits of people and their average daily calorie intake requirements.

Placebo: Participants will be assigned a short reading not related to eating or food.

Harm/care and suffering condition: Participants will receive a reading in which the first paragraph is the reading assigned in the control condition. A second paragraph will describe how animals perceive pain, and the fact that many farming practices do inflict pain upon animals.

Harm/care and environment condition: Participants will receive a reading in which the first paragraph is the reading assigned in the control condition. A second paragraph will state that a diet without meat and dairy has a much smaller impact on the environment.

Fairness/reciprocity condition: Participants will receive a reading in which the first paragraph is the reading assigned in the control condition. A second paragraph will state that the treatment of animals should follow the same principle of fairness extends to all individuals regardless of their skin color, nationality, height, age, species, and so on.

Loyalty/patriotism condition: Participants will receive a reading in which the first paragraph is the reading assigned in the control condition. A second paragraph will state that eating animal products can be considered unpatriotic because of the environmental impact of animal farming and because respecting animals is part of the national identity.

Authority/respect condition: Participants will receive a reading in which the first paragraph is the reading assigned in the control condition. A second paragraph will state that the current amount of consumption of animal product is much higher than any other previous historical period, and as such, it is out of step with historical roots and traditions.

Sanctity/purity condition (life/religion/spirituality): Participants will receive a reading in which the first paragraph is the reading assigned in the control condition. The second paragraph will state that many mainstream religions imply respect for animals, too.

Sanctity/purity condition (Disgust): Participants will receive a reading whose first paragraph is the reading assigned in the control condition. A second paragraph will describe how disgusts is a reason for why certain people do not eat meat.

In each condition, participants will receive a comprehension question about the text they just read.

We will then add to the survey a Moral Foundation questionnaire, questions about attitudes toward the consumption of animal products (one our main outcomes of interest), and a “donation” question: We will ask participants to split $10 between two non-profit organization, one that is animal-focused (it conducts investigations of factory farms and presses for stronger legal protection for animals), and one that is human-focused (it promotes youth empowerment and encourages young people to be engaged in society). We will randomize the order in which we will list the two organizations. We will inform the participants that we will randomly select 100 of them and implement their allocation choices with an actual donation. The donation decision will represent our second outcome of interest. We will conclude with a socio-demographic and moral identity questionnaire.

The full survey is attached
Intervention Start Date
2018-02-12
Intervention End Date
2018-02-28
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Answers to the survey questions that capture attitudes toward the consumption of animal products.
Donation decisions
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
Subjects will be assigned randomly to one of the conditions outlined in the the description of the intervention above.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Computer randomization through Qualtrics.
Randomization Unit
Individual
Was the treatment clustered?
No
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
Individual level intervention
Sample size: planned number of observations
1,600 individuals (FIRST STUDY) 2,610 individuals (SECOND STUDY)
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
In this study we consider the proportion of subjects who will likely report that they would consider switching to a plant-based diet versus those who will not. Using the proportion of belief changes observed by Elias, Lacetera, and Macis (2015a, 2015b) as a rough guide, we suppose that the proportion increases from 0.1 in the control condition (with standard deviation of 0.3) to 0.2 (with standard deviation of 0.4) in any given treatment group in the studies. Then a sample size of 200 for each condition would provide sufficient statistical power to find statistical significance at the 5% level with 80% power. The total sample size would thus need to be 6*200 = 1,200. Since this calculation rests on several assumptions, we scale up by about 25% and plan for a sample of 1,600 participants.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Please see above
Supporting Documents and Materials
Documents
Document Name
Survey for study 2
Document Type
survey_instrument
Document Description
File
Survey for study 2

MD5: 60cf6227fa9142182481c52850d75b75

SHA1: eea750f7ed92f9c92f22604f4ea55de8654435c5

Uploaded At: April 24, 2019

IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
University of Toronto Office of Research Ethics
IRB Approval Date
2017-11-13
IRB Approval Number
35329
Post-Trial
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Intervention
Is the intervention completed?
No
Is data collection complete?
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
No
Program Files
Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials
Relevant Paper(s)
REPORTS & OTHER MATERIALS