The Denial of Mind to Animals Used for Human Consumption

Bastian, B., Loughnan, S., Haslam, N., & Radke, H. R. M. (2012). Don’t mind meat? The denial of mind to animals used for human consumption. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(2), 247-256.

Bastian and colleagues (2012) identified a form of cognitive dissonance they termed the “meat paradox” in which people’s concern for animal welfare conflicts with their meat-eating behavior. They proposed that individuals reconcile this conflict by mentally separating meat from animals and by denying that animals possess the mental qualities (such as the capacity for fear or suffering) that would allow the animals to be the worthy of moral concern. In a series of studies with non-vegetarian, Australian students, the authors demonstrated that (1) the more an animal was viewed as possessing mind, the less it was viewed as edible, and the more negative affect was associated with its consumption, (2) being reminded of the meat production process resulted in greater denial of mind to animals, and (3) individuals who expected to eat meat (as opposed to fruit in a “consumer behavior task”) were more likely to engage in denial of mind to animals. Bastian and colleagues suggested that people’s ideas about animal mind are flexible and can be modified to support the individual’s motivation and cultural commitments to consuming animals.

Making Connections

Attitudes and behavior
Cognitive dissonance
Cross-cultural differences
Moral reasoning

Media Supplement

In this NPR podcast, Temple Grandin discusses how her personal experience with autism has helped her to develop better ways to understand and communicate with animals. Temple Grandin is the author of Animals Make Us Human and Animals in Translation. [20 min 36 sec]

In this NPR podcast, commentator Sandip Roy discusses changing attitudes about eating meat in traditionally vegetarian India. [3 min 58 sec]