The Psychology of Eating Animals
The sphere of morality generally widens over time, that is to say that we are increasingly concerned with how moral the things that we do are.
One of the more fashionable areas of widening morality is that of eating meat.
The majority of people both eat animals and care about animals, often keeping animals as pets.
Researchers are interested in the psychological process that allows people to negotiate this “meat paradox.” (Loughnan et al, 2014)
We examine characteristics of the eaters (people), the eaten (animals), and the eating (the behavior).
The surest way to eliminate moral tension associated with eating animals is to not eat them. Vegetarians experience no conflict between their beliefs about animal harm and their dietary practices
Studies of vegetarianism have revealed that moral concern regarding the raising and slaughter of animals is a principal motivation for eliminating meat consumption
In addition to motivating dietary change, valuing animal welfare helps sustain and moralize vegetarian diets
Eating animals is morally troublesome when animals are perceived as worthy of moral concern.
The more moral concern we afford an entity, the more immoral it becomes to harm it.
People show considerable variability in the extent to which they deem animals worthy of moral concern
The tension omnivores experience when reminded that their behavior may not match their beliefs and values, and the resolution of this tension by changing those beliefs, fits with the theory of cognitive dissonance
Whereas some people (e.g., vegetarians) reduce this negative state by changing their actions, others may do so by strategically changing their beliefs, specifically about animals’ minds, suffering, and moral standing
The authors concluded by discussing the various reasons why and how people eat meat:
People who value masculinity, enjoy meat and do not see it as a moral issue, and find dominance and inequality acceptable are most likely to consume animals.
Perceiving animals as highly dissimilar to humans and as lacking mental attributes, such as the capacity for pain, also supports meat-eating.
In addition to these beliefs, values, and perceptions, the act of eating meat triggers psychological processes that regulate negative emotions associated with eating animals.
While meat eating is a moral and ethical issue it is increasingly becoming an environmental issue that warrants further research.