Study: Seeing baby animals reduces appetite for meat

There’s a funny thing on BuzzFeed called Bacon Lovers Meet Piggy. The video has almost 15 million views – you may have seen it too. The video features several boys and girls blissfully waiting to be served a plate of delicious bacon, only to be handed a cute little pig instead.

The participants are touched and hugged by the piglet, and then their eyes fill with embarrassment at the realization that they are eating bacon, which is made from these cute piglets. One woman exclaims, “I will never eat bacon again.” The male respondent jokes: “Let’s be honest – he looks delicious.”

This video is not only entertaining. It also points to the difference in gender thinking: men and women often deal with the tension of thinking about killing animals in different ways.

men and meat

Many studies show that there are more meat lovers among men than among women, and that they consume it in large quantities. For example, 2014 showed that in the United States there are noticeably more women, both current and former vegans. Women are more likely than men to forego meat for reasons related to its appearance, taste, health, weight loss, environmental concerns and concern for animal welfare. Men, on the other hand, identify with meat, perhaps because of the historical links between meat and masculinity.

Women who eat meat often use slightly different strategies than men to avoid feeling guilty about eating animals. Psychologist Hank Rothberber explains that men, as a group, tend to support human dominance beliefs and pro-meat justifications for killing farm animals. That is, they are more likely to agree with statements such as “people are at the top of the food chain and want to eat animals” or “meat is too delicious to worry about what critics say.” One study used a 1–9 agreement scale to rate people’s attitudes toward pro-meat and hierarchical justifications, with 9 being “strongly agree”. The average response rate for men was 6 and for women 4,5.

Rothberber found that women, on the other hand, were more likely to engage in less explicit strategies to reduce cognitive dissonance, such as avoiding thoughts of animal suffering when eating meat. These indirect strategies are useful, but they are more fragile. Faced with the reality of animal slaughter, it will be harder for women to avoid feeling sorry for the animals that are on their plates.

Child’s face

The sight of small animals has a particularly strong influence on women’s thinking. Babies, like small children, are especially vulnerable and in need of parental care, and they also exhibit the stereotypically “cute” features—big heads, round faces, big eyes, and puffy cheeks—that we associate with babies.

Research shows that both men and women can notice cute features in children’s faces. But women especially emotionally react to cute children.

Because of the mixed opinions about meat and women’s emotional attachment to children, scientists wondered if women might find meat especially unpleasant if it was the meat of a baby animal. Will women show more affection for a piglet than for an adult pig? And could this sway women into giving up meat, even if the end product looks the same regardless of the age of the animal? The researchers asked the same question for men, but didn’t expect major changes due to their more positive relationship with meat.

Here is a pig, and now – eat sausage

In 781 American men and women were presented with pictures of baby animals and pictures of adult animals, accompanied by meat dishes. In every study, the meat product always had the same image, whether it was adult or child meat. Participants rated their appetite for the food on a scale of 0 to 100 (from “Not at all appetizing” to “Very appetizing”) and rated how cute the animal was or how tender it made them feel.

Women often replied that a meat dish was less appetizing when it was made from the meat of a young animal. All three studies showed that they gave this dish an average of 14 points less. This is partly due to the fact that the sight of baby animals caused them more tender feelings. Among men, the results were less significant: their appetite for a dish was practically not affected by the age of the animal (on average, the meat of the young seemed appetizing to them by 4 points less).

These gender differences in meat were observed despite the fact that it had previously been found that both men and women rated domestic animals (chickens, piglets, calves, lambs) as highly worthy of their care. Apparently, men were able to separate their attitude towards animals from their appetite for meat.

Of course, these studies didn’t look at whether or not the participants subsequently cut back on meat, but they did show that arousing the feelings of caring that are so important to how we relate to members of our own species can make people—and women in particular— -Rethink your relationship with meat.

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