Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change

nick_headshot.jpgIn his new book, Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change, activist and author Nick Cooney fuses psychology studies and marketing research to help advocates of any cause be as effective as possible in spreading social change.

Citing over 80 years of research, Cooney explains how most people adopt their beliefs, react to new information, and change (or maintain) their behaviors. By understanding the psychology of the average person, activists can be more effective in everyday advocacy work and influencing the public's behaviors, and thus creating a more compassionate world.

Cooney, a longtime activist and director of The Humane League, sat down with MFA to talk about his new book and animal advocacy.


What inspired you to write Change of Heart?

I've always been interested in psychology, and as someone running a non-profit I've wondered day in and day out for years how I could make my advocacy work more effective. Change Of Heart combines these two areas of interest, and was written to answer a very fundamental question: how can we more effectively persuade people to change their behavior (to go vegan, boycott fur, or make other compassionate choices)?

We each have our own opinions and gut instincts about what motivates people to change, but no one in the advocacy world had ever taken a thorough look at what the science says.

How has your approach to animal advocacy changed since you began researching and writing Change of Heart?

Since writing Change of Heart, there are a lot of small but very important changes I've made in my advocacy work: using stories rather than statistics when trying to persuade; remembering to always make our cause look like a mainstream one; encouraging people to make small or mid-sized changes rather than large ones; and countless other tweaks.

If someone wanted to spread social change, what advice would you give them before they got started?

ChangeOfHeart.jpgFirst, take an honest look at what your motivation is for wanting to spread social change. Is it so you can live out aspects of your own self-identity (sharing your opinion through t-shirts, tattoos, protest slogans and hanging around with like-minded people)? Is it so you can feel like your life has meaning, or that you are a good person? Or, is your goal to decrease as much suffering and increase as much joy as you can in this world?

These are all valid motivations, but once we decide that the latter is by far the most important we will immediately become much more effective at spreading social change. For those of us working to help animals, the question becomes this: "I have a limited amount of time and money to devote to helping animals. What advocacy work will help the greatest number of animals and reduce the greatest amount of suffering?" Ask this question every day, and always keep your eye on what other advocates and non-profits are doing. When you see a person or a group doing something that helps more animals more quickly, start doing that!

And of course, read Change Of Heart! And The Animal Activist's Handbook, by Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich.

If animal advocates took away one idea from reading this book, what would you want it to be?

Treat your advocacy work with the same rigor and the same focus on results as a CEO. Corporations have a "bottom line" of making as much money as they can, and every decision they make is carefully planned around what will bring the biggest financial payoff. Our "bottom line" as animal advocates is helping as many animals and reducing as much animal suffering as possible. Every decision we advocates make - from what project to work on, to what we wear, to what message we use when communicating with the public - should be based on what will have the best results for our bottom line of helping the most animals. By learning what the research can teach us about human psychology and behavior change, we will have much better results and help many more animals.


MFA staff members have found Change Of Heart to be an engaging and useful tool. We highly recommend it for those new to animal advocacy and seasoned activists alike. For a limited time only, the book is available on Amazon at a special 35% discount!