Moderate vs. Radical NGOs

Romain Espinosa, and Nicolas Treich


NGOs often vary in terms of how radical they are. In this paper, we explore the effectiveness of NGO discourses in bringing about social change. We focus on animal advocacy: welfarist NGOs primarily seek to improve the conditions in which animals are raised and reduce meat consumption, whereas abolitionist NGOs categorically reject animal use and call for a vegan society. We design an experiment to study the respective impact of welfarist and abolitionist discourses on participants' beliefs regarding pro‐meat justifications and their actions, namely their propensity to engage in the short run in animal welfare (charity donation, petition against intensive farming) and plant‐based diets (subscription to a newsletter promoting plant‐based diets, petition supporting vegetarian meals). We first show that both welfarist and abolitionist discourses significantly undermine participants' pro‐meat justifications. Second, the welfarist discourse does not significantly affect participants' actions, although we detect a potential backlash effect of the abolitionist discourse. We show that the NGOs' positive standard effect on actions through the change in beliefs is outweighed by a negative behavioral response to the discourses (reactance effect). Last, greater public‐good contributions are associated with greater engagement in animal welfare in the presence of an NGO discourse.


moderate; radical; NGO; welfarist; abolitionist; animal-welfare; plant-based; diets; behavioral economics; experimental economics; reactance;

JEL codes

  • C91: Laboratory, Individual Behavior
  • Q18: Agricultural Policy • Food Policy
  • Q5: Environmental Economics
  • D71: Social Choice • Clubs • Committees • Associations


Romain Espinosa, and Nicolas Treich, Moderate vs. Radical NGOs, American Journal of Agricultural Economics, vol. 103, n. 4, August 2021, pp. 1478–1501.

Published in

American Journal of Agricultural Economics, vol. 103, n. 4, August 2021, pp. 1478–1501