Author ORCID Identifier

Date of Award

Fall 12-12-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jaye Atkinson

Second Advisor

Carrie Freeman

Third Advisor

Rasha Ramzy

Fourth Advisor

Debra Merskin


There is an urgent need to move people toward meat reduction given the negative impacts factory farming has on animals, human health, and the environment. Yet to drive widespread adoption of this behavior, one overlooked persuasive strategy involves asking flexitarians for one or two additional days of meat-free eating each week beyond current reductions. This approach speaks to the need to better understand receiver factors – in this case, people’s judgments and attitudes toward meat reduction – in order to clarify how much behavior change is acceptable.

To address this challenge, Social Judgment Theory (SJT) was used to characterize the attitudes of flexitarians (meat reducers) and future flexitarians (future meat reducers) toward meat reduction since this theoretical construct recognizes that attitudes are best represented by a range of judgments regarding an advocated position. Further, SJT predicts lower ego involvement – defined as an individual’s self-investment in their beliefs – will be positively correlated with willingness to accept an advocated position; implying that people whose sense of self is not strongly tied to meat eating may be more open to reduction. And lastly, to provide insights into current consumption habits, the literature on mindfulness and neoliberalism was consulted since empirical evidence suggests compassion may serve as an antidote to mindless consumerism.

To explore the foregoing, a quantitative survey of a representative sample of U.S. adults was conducted during Spring 2022, along with a qualitative content analysis of 10 leading online plant-based dietary change websites. Findings indicate 90% of flexitarians and 85% of future flexitarians are open to three and two days per week meat free, respectively. And, while compassion predicted a statistically significant openness to meat reduction among flexitarians, no significant effect was found among future flexitarians. Additionally, no significant effects were found for ego-involvement for either group. Lastly, qualitative findings indicate half of plant-based dietary change campaigns either request too much change (via veganism) or too little change (e.g. Meatless Monday). Consequently, there exists an opportunity for messaging to encourage two to three days per week meat free among the 80% of the U.S. population that identify as either flexitarian or future flexitarian.


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