The 4 Ns Of Meat-Eating
When attempting to sway people away from eating animal products, facts aren’t enough. How those facts are presented has a strong effect on their persuasiveness, and two people may act very differently to the same facts presented in the same way. The authors of this paper attempt to determine the personality traits and key values held by people who justify their meat-eating as either natural, necessary, normal, or nice – referred to as the 4Ns.
1004 participants were recruited through Amazon’s MTurk system, with a median age of 36 and a 47% female / 53% male gender split. Participants were all given a questionnaire to determine their rationale for eating meat, ranking justifications on a 0-7 disagree / agree scale. They were also given “Big 5” personality tests, a standard personality test in modern psychology, also known as the Five Factor Model or the OCEAN Model. The test measures Openness (curious vs cautious), Conscientiousness (organized vs careless), Extraversion (outgoing vs reserved), Agreeableness (friendly vs detached), and Neuroticism (nervous vs confident). Values were divided into two categories. Instrumental values are those which aid in achieving long term goals, while Terminal Values are those long-term goals. Examples of the former would be responsibility, intellect, and independence, while examples of the latter are freedom, equality, and respect. These values were measured on a standard 0-7 scale. Finally, participants were given the Vegetarian Eating Motives Inventory, in which they grade the motives for eating a plant-based diet on a 0-7 scale.
Three of the four Ns were associated with values but not personality. People who viewed eating meat as natural were more likely to value recognition and excitement, as well as display a general lack of concern with its environmental effects. Those who viewed it as necessary valued recognition and excitement as well, in addition to the values of obedience, national security, and salvation. The authors believe this profile may describe someone with more conservative beliefs and who respects traditional norms.
Those who simply found eating meat to be nice highly valued comfort and pleasure and were less concerned with the environment or animal welfare. Those who primarily viewed meat-eating as normal were the only ones who were associated with personality traits rather than values. They tended to be more neurotic, less agreeable, and less conscientious. This describes someone who is focused on stability, and this set of traits is often associated with people who have low empathy and a desire for social dominance.
Three of the four Ns were associated with values but not personality, while Normal was linked with personality but not values. In addition, the scale for Normal was less internally consistent than the others were, suggesting a relatively heterogenous group. The researchers note that the differences in this study were generally small, and more studies are needed; they also point out that previous VEMI studies usually involve health motivations, while this study included more ethical motivations. This suggests that people eating meat do have an ethical framework that they’re working within, and modifying or critiquing that framework may be the best way to change their beliefs.