Meat on the Mind: The Psychology of Eating Animals
March 13, 2012 4 Comments
Very interesting piece from last month’s Psychology Today. Psychologist Art Markman, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, summarizes a recent study that suggests, in Markman’s words, “when people eat meat they tend to downplay the minds of the animals they eat.”
This is not to suggest people aren’t thinking about animal minds. “There was,” Markman continues, “a systematic relationship between the animals people choose to eat and their beliefs about the minds of the animals.” Specifically, “people were much less willing to eat animals that they believe have complex mental abilities than to eat animals that do not have complex minds.”
What consumers assume about animal intelligence, however, hinges on arbitrary preconditions. Meat eaters who envisioned animals raised on a bucolic pasture rated the minds of those animals higher than those who envisioned them being killed for food. In another experiment, meat eaters who were asked to write about the experience of raising and butchering animals for food were fed fruit or meat. Those who ate fruit gave a higher rating to the mental ability of the animals they wrote about than did those who ate the meat.
These finds highlight an integral aspect of eating animals: in so many ways the process of raising, killing, commodifying, and eating sentient creatures requires humans to spin protective narrative webs around their acts. Markman concludes, “These studies suggest that people who choose to eat meat have to grapple with the moral dilemma of eating an animal with a brain whether they realize it or not. Because of the importance of eating to our lives, we think about food animals as less complex than other animals. This effect is particularly strong in the context of meat eating.”
It really makes me wonder what kind of deceptive strategies were employed by the backyard slaughterers I profiled over the past week.
-thanks to Mariann Sullivan for sending me this article.