Licence to Kill? Investigating the Moral Licensing Effect of Meat Reducing Petitions on Personal Meat Avoidance Pledges


  • Christopher Bryant Orcid
  • Anna Hancox Orcid


This paper investigated the possibility of moral licensing in the context of meat reduction. Specifically, we investigated the impact of petition-signing on personal commitment to meat reduction. In two studies, participants were assigned to a treatment condition, in which they had the opportunity to sign a petition to restrict meat in public sector catering, or a control condition, where they did not see the petition. All participants then indicated whether they would personally pledge a meat-free week. We compared personal pledge rates between petition-signers, non-signers, and the control group. In Study 1 (n = 166) we found that petition-signers were significantly more likely than the non-signers to pledge a meat-free week but were not significantly different from the control group. The non-signers, however, were significantly less likely to pledge a meat-free week than the control group. In Study 2 (n = 435) we added measures of meat attachment and environmental attitudes as covariates. We found that, in a model without covariates petition non-signing significantly predicted non-pledging. In a model with covariates, meat attachment significantly predicted pledging likelihood, but petition non-signing remained a significant predictor of pledging. These results show no moral licensing effects. In fact, we observe consistency between petition-signing and pledge-taking, though this is likely attributable to stable underlying attitudes rather than a consistency effect per se. Animal advocates should target advocacy requests towards those who are most likely to have positive underlying attitudes and avoid those who are likely to refuse.