Giving Lucky a Name and a Face: Increasing Animal Advocacy Activism Among Meat-eaters Using the Identifiable Victim Effect

Rakefet Cohen

Rakefet pursued a master’s degree Social and Organizational Psychology at Bar-Ilan University and is now on a PhD track where she continues to work on the identifiable animal victim effect.

Author’s Note

What was your thesis topic?

Animal products based diets are costly to our health and planet, and are cruel to animals. Bearing this in mind, in the current work we tried to harness meat-eaters to animal rights activism using the identifiable victim effect, a well-documented phenomenon suggesting that an identified compared to an anonymous or statistical victim provokes greater caring and donation. Here, we extended this finding to a farm animal victim whose helpers, as meat-eaters, are responsible for his/her plight. In Experiment 1, participants indicated greater likelihood to sign and share a petition to save Lucky, an identified calf (vs. several unidentified calves), who managed to run away from slaughter. In Experiment 2, we extended these findings to actual signing the petition, and to self-reported support in it. Further, meat-eaters who are high in concern, low in empathy and identification with animals are more susceptible to the effect. We discuss theoretical and practical implications.

What do you think the stronger and weaker parts of your thesis are?

The study was a randomized controlled trial (RCT) comprised of two experiments. While both studies had a solid internal validity, the benefit of Experiment 2 was partly based on external validity, studying the identifiable victim effect in the real world.

On the other hand, more studies are needed to generalize our results beyond our study which included a sufficient but small sample. Additional study may also look for applications for the interactions of the identifiable victim with concern, empathy, and identification with animals, as well as ways to increase pro-social behavior on the behalf of individuals who by these individual differences do not respond to the identifiable victim.

In what ways do you think your topic improves the world?

Although the identifiable victim effect has been replicated over and over, a few studies explore its benefits for animal victims. Hopefully, the study would tap into humans’ natural heightened caring for a single, identifiable victim to increase compassion and even inspire action for farm animals.

In what ways have you changed your mind since writing it?

In addition to the main identifiable victim effect, I would add situational moderators that would enable me to draw practical conclusions for the terms in which people respond to the identifiable victim effect. I would also test a subtler difference between the identifiable and the unidentifiable victim conditions. Instead of one calf + photo vs. several calves without photo, I would test calf + photo vs. several calves + photo.

What recommendations would you make to others interested in taking a similar direction with their research?

First, congratulations for arriving this far (both on the page and on your career and activism). You are one of a kind. Don’t feel embarrassed to celebrate it!

Secondly, you need both hard and soft skills for this kind of work. You can start with googling “hard and soft skills” and “MOOCs.”

For the soft skills, you will need excellent relationship with your instructor, as I hope mine would agree we have. You would also need to stay updated in your field and hopefully internally motivated to watch videos and listen to podcasts on the latest news.

For the hard skills, it is highly recommended that you know, plan (and pre-register) which statistical test you will conduct beforehand. R Studio and Qualtrics expertise are also often required.

This is your opportunity to expand your knowledge and skills in addition to making a change. Grab it!

For any inquiries about my research or any other burning question in your career, you are more than welcome to reach out to me on