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When Meat Gets Personal, Animals’ Minds Matter Less

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Given the results of this study, it would appear that arguments about intelligence are not going to be successful in dissuading people from eating animals already considered to be 'food.'

OWEN ROGERS: ‘In a recent study, researchers sought to find out, by conducting three different studies exploring the relationship between an animal’s perceived intelligence and participants’ views of their moral standing. They hypothesized that participants would be more willing to consider intelligence as morally significant with animals that they did not already consider to be “food.” Each study was conducted with different groups of participants, the first from the U.S. and the latter two from the U.K…

The first study created a fictional alien species called the “trablans,” that human explorers had found on another planet. One group of participants was told that the trablans were capable of tool use and complex problem-solving, while the other was told that they were incapable of even basic reasoning. The participants were then asked five questions related to the moral standing of the animals, using the trablans as a stand-in, like “Is it morally okay to eat the trablans?” and “Would you eat the trablans yourself in the same instance?” Each question was answered on a scale from 1-7, and the average was taken to determine the individual’s attitude towards the trablans’ moral standing…

The second study split participants into three target groups, each with a secret “target animal” – pigs, tapirs (eaten in Asia and South America), and trablans. Each group was further split into a high-intelligence and low-intelligence group, the only difference between which was the comparison to dogs: the high-intelligence group was told the animal was smarter than dogs, while the low-intelligence group was told they were less intelligent… All participants were told that their target animal was originally hunted in the wild, but is now farmed for food. They were then asked to rate their own willingness to eat the animal and guilt about doing so…

Both groups were asked to rank the intelligence of pigs from 1-7 and to answer “moral standing” questions related to either their own consumption of pigs or John’s hypothetical consumption. When told that pigs are more intelligent than dogs, participants were more judgmental of John eating pigs, but only marginally less likely to eat pigs themselves. In the low-intelligence groups, perspective did not matter… It would appear that arguments about intelligence are not going to be successful in dissuading people from eating animals already considered to be “food.”

However, such arguments might be more successful in cases where the animal is not typically eaten – for example, U.S. adults might be receptive to arguments about the intelligence of whales or octopi. The authors call for further research into whether people actively avoid learning information that may cause a moral dilemma, or if they just ignore it. By understanding which arguments are ineffective, animal advocacy groups can focus their resources in areas that will have the greatest impact, and it would appear that appeals about an animal’s intelligence are not high impact’. SOURCE…

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