A new study from the University of Kent has found that people who wish to escape the 'meat paradox' -- i.e., simultaneously disliking hurting animals and enjoying eating meat -- may do so by denying that the animal they ate had the capacity to suffer.
Those participating in the study also reported a reduced range of animals to which they felt obligated to show moral concern. These ranged from dogs and chimps to snails and fish.
The study, the results of which are published in the August issue of Appetite, was conducted by Dr. Steve Loughnan, Research Associate at the University's School of Psychology, and colleagues in Australia.
Prior to their study, it was generally assumed that the only solutions to the meat paradox are for people to simply stop eating meat, a decision taken by many vegetarians, or to fail to recognize that animals are killed to produce meat. (Although few people live in true ignorance, some meat-eaters may live in a state of tacit denial, failing to equate beef with cow, pork with pig, or even chicken with chicken.)
Loughnan explained: "Some people do choose to stop eating meat when they learn that animals suffer for its production. An overwhelming majority do not. Our research shows that one way people are able to keep eating meat is by dampening their moral consideration of animals when sitting at the dinner table."
Loughnan also explained that, broadly speaking, their study has shown that when there is a conflict between people's preferred way of thinking and their preferred way of acting, it is their thoughts and moral standards that people abandon first -- rather than changing their behavior. "Rather than change their beliefs about the animals' moral rights, people could change their behavior," he said. "However, we suspect that most people are unwilling to deny themselves the enjoyment of eating meat, and denying animals moral rights lets them keep eating with a clear conscience."
In addition to Loughnan, the study was co-authored by Nick Haslam, University of Melbourne, and Brock Bastian, University of Queensland.
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