Journal article Open Access

Meat eaters by dissociation: How we present, prepare and talk about meat increases willingness to eat meat by reducing empathy and disgust

Kunst, J. R.; Hohle, S. M.

Many people enjoy eating meat but dislike causing pain to animals. Dissociating meat from its animal origins may be a powerful way to avoid cognitive dissonance resulting from this 'meat paradox'. Here, we provide the first comprehensive test of this hypothesis, highlighting underlying psychological mechanisms. Processed meat made participants less empathetic towards the slaughtered animal than unprocessed meat (Study 1). When beheaded, a whole roasted pork evoked less empathy (Study 2a) and disgust (Study 2b) than when the head was present. These affective responses, in turn, made participants more willing to eat the roast and less willing to consider an alternative vegetarian dish. Conversely, presenting a living animal in a meat advertisement increased empathy and reduced willingness to eat meat (Study 3). Next, describing industrial meat production as "harvesting" versus "killing" or "slaughtering" indirectly reduced empathy (Study 4). Last, replacing "beef/pork" with "cow/pig" in a restaurant menu increased empathy and disgust, which both equally reduced willingness to eat meat and increased willingness to choose an alternative vegetarian dish (Study 5). In all experiments, effects were strongly mediated by dissociation and interacted with participants' general dissociation tendencies in Study 3 and 5, so that effects were particularly pronounced among participants who generally spend efforts disassociating meat from animals in their daily lives. Together, this line of research demonstrates the large role various culturally-entrenched processes of dissociation play for meat consumption. This record was migrated from the OpenDepot repository service in June, 2017 before shutting down.

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