New UK research has found that viewing photos of baby animals reduces people’s desire to eat meat, and women are much more affected than men.
The team from Lancaster University and University College London carried out three experiments with a total of 781 meat-eating participants, including 353 women and 428 men, to see whether viewing images of baby animals affected their desire to eat meat.
In the first study, participants were shown images of both baby and adult animals, including a calf, a bull, a baby “joey” kangaroo, and an adult kangaroo. Each image was paired with an image of a cooked meat dish.
The researchers asked the participants to rate how cute they found each animal, and how appetizing they found the meat dish. In the second study, the researchers repeated this method with a larger sample size and images of a piglet, pig, lamb, and sheep.
In the third study participants were asked to rate their appetite for meat when a meat dish was presented along with an image of either a calf, cow, or no animal.
The results showed that baby animals were rated cuter than adult animals by both men and women, and that seeing baby animals, but not adult animals, temporarily reduces a woman’s appetite for meat.
The effect on men was not as strong.
The researchers say the findings are in line with previous research, which has shown that women are more responsive than men to cute babies, and more ambivalent about meat-eating.
“We found that both men and women find baby farmed animals to be cute and vulnerable, and experience feelings of tenderness and warmth towards them. But these positive feelings affect men and women differently, with men experiencing much less reduction in their appetite for meat as a result,” said Dr Jared Piazza, one of the study’s co-authors.
Piazza said this could be because even today, women still often assume the role of caregivers.
“Our findings may reflect women’s greater emotional attunement towards babies and, by extension, their tendency to empathise more with baby animals.
“Also, meat is associated with masculinity and images of tough men who consume meat for muscle building protein, along with prehistoric ideas of the male as hunter. Women have a much more ambivalent attitude towards meat and their identity is not bound up with it in the same way.”