A recent study has found that beliefs about how animals are raised influence the experience of eating meat and anyone interested in creating an experience should consider how beliefs influence the user experience. “Affective Beliefs Influence the Experience of Eating Meat,” explored whether beliefs about animal suffering can influence the experience of eating meat. The answer? Yes.
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Lisa Feldman Barrett, PhD, director of Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory and distinguished professor of psychology, Northeastern University, Boston, Mass., found that no studies have been conducted on whether beliefs about how animals are raised can influence the actual experience of consuming animal products. Therefore, the study focused on the pleasantness of the eating experience because, says Barrett, it is an important consideration in eating as well as product consumption.
“We show that what you feel very directly influences not only how you interpret what you see but also very literally what you see,” explains Dr. Barrett. “We call this ‘affective realism’—the tendency of your feelings to influence the actual content of your perceptual experience.”
The goal of the research was to test if how animals were raised, for example did they suffer, would influence the experience of eating meat. To test the hypothesis, Dr. Barrett, along with academic colleague Eric C. Anderson, PhD, conducted three studies on the Northeastern University campus. While several parameters changed with each study variation, identical meat was used in each study, i.e. there was no difference in the meat associated with each description.
The first study manipulated participants’ beliefs about meat. Two labels were created that described two different farms on which cows were raised: factory farm and humane farm. Using two identical samples of beef jerky, results found that after participants read the labels, they reported the factory farm meat sample was less pleasant, looked less appealing, and tasted worse. Participants also reported that their overall consumption experience was less enjoyable; they were less likely to eat the product again; and they were willing to pay 21.82 percent less for the factory-farmed jerky.
In the second study, a control description was added that did not mention how the animals were raised. This addition allowed the researchers to test whether the factory farm label reduced enjoyment and consequently whether the humane farm label increased enjoyment. Once again the descriptions influenced how much a participant liked the sample, in this case roast beef. The data found that meat paired with the factory farm description was less liked compared to both the humane farm and the control label while the humane farm and control label were approximately equally liked. As predicted, the difference between the humane farm and positively framed factory farm reached trend level significance. However, the factory farm description and the positively framed factor farm description were equally liked. This, says Dr. Barrett, suggests that the conditions in which animals are raised are the most important factor.
In the third study, researchers tested whether beliefs about how animals were raised can influence basic sensory experiences. Subjects reported on several properties of flavor including saltiness and sweetness of deli ham after reading more evocative descriptions involving text combined with animal images. In this case, the control condition always came first. This study, according to Dr. Barrett, most closely resembled real-world situations in which meat is consumed. The study found that descriptions influenced the pleasantness of taste, appearance, smell, and overall experience. In addition, the data found that the factory-farmed sample was rated as significantly less pleasant as compared to the humane sample with the control sample most closely aligned with the humane label. The one exception was that participants rated the appearance of the control sample as pleasant as the factory farm sample. Once again, respondents indicated that they would pay more for humanely raised deli ham than factory-farmed.