No Appetite For The Human-Like: Anthropomorphism And Meat Consumption
Research has shown that one of the primary motivators for people to undertake a veg*n diet is an empathetic concern for animals and their welfare. This concern and the avoidance of meat have been directly linked, and even quantified with something called an empathy score, as presented in Faunalytics’ own Research Library. This study sought to show that anthropomorphism (assigning characteristics associated to humans onto non-human entities) of animals can be a strong indicator of decreased meat consumption as well.
The authors believe this correlation arises because people who recognize human characteristics in non-human animals are more likely to empathize with them, which then causes the reduction in meat consumption. The researchers used two different studies to present their findings: the first study was done to determine if our specific anthropomorphism of non-human animals is an indicator of meat consumption; the second was done to test if our empathy towards animals was correlated with anthropomorphism of animals and meat consumption.
In the first study, the authors used 306 university students in Poland to complete an online survey. The participants ranged from 18 to 55 years old with the study containing almost five times as many females as males. The participants answered questions on the extent in which they anthropomorphized four non-human entities, using a seven-point scale. The four non-human entities included non-human animals, natural entities, spiritual beings and technological devices. The researchers included non-animals to determine whether it was anthropomorphism specifically that caused reduced meat consumption, or if a general tendency to anthropomorphize was the indicator. Participants would then share their dietary preferences regarding meat consumption on a 5-point scale ranging from no meat and no animal products all the way to eating meat on a regular basis.
The second study sought was to create a viable method to measure the empathy of humans towards non-human animals. There were certain measurements available to be used to determine empathy toward animals, but none of the methods measured empathy toward animals clearly and reliably. This new study used three hundred and seven students, with twice as many men as women, with ages ranging from 17 to 60. Participants were asked questions determining the extent they had empathy towards non-human animals using a scale of 1-7. The researchers then used the same scale from 1-5 to determine meat consumption of the participants.
The results of the first study established that it was specifically anthropomorphism of animals that was the cause for reduced meat consumption, not a general tendency to anthropomorphize everything in the environment. This was an important distinction, as it shows that reduced meat consumption is not an indicator of some type of confusion in the perception of reality.
The results of the second study showed that higher levels of empathy towards animals is directly correlated with lower meat consumption and a higher tendency to anthropomorphize animals. These results support the authors original hypothesis that empathic concern for animals mediates the relationship between animal anthropomorphism and meat consumption.
Importantly, on the flip side, the research showed that the consumption of meat causes people to avoid anthropomorphizing animals in an effort to avoid being in a state of ambivalence. Omnivores need to reconcile their behavior of causing animal suffering by avoiding anthropomorphizing of animals to justify their actions in meat consumption. By separating animals from a human-like status and human characteristics, meat eaters can more easily avoid empathizing with animal suffering, and thus have an easier time participating in it.
Vegetarians, on the other hand, do not have the same dilemma in their actions, and thus can more easily attribute animals with human-like characteristics without any form of moral dilemma. This can be shown with omnivores assigning significantly fewer emotional states to animals eaten in their culture (such as pigs) than animals not eaten in their culture (such as dogs). Vegetarians do not differentiate when ascribing emotional states to animals, as their actions are consistent with their attitudes towards all animals, unlike many meat eaters.
For advocates, the study may seem like a good bit of common sense, but regardless, it provides us with a scientific basis for a phenomenon we may feel is true intuitively. This study shows us how anthropomorphism and empathy intersect in meat consumption patterns, and there are numerous ways advocates can use this type of information in their advocacy.