The effect of categorization as food on the perceived moral standing of animals

Appetite. 2011 Aug;57(1):193-6. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.04.020. Epub 2011 May 4.


Most people love animals and love eating meat. One way of reducing this conflict is to deny that animals suffer and have moral rights. We suggest that the act of categorizing an animal as 'food' may diminish their perceived capacity to suffer, which in turn dampens our moral concern. Participants were asked to read about an animal in a distant nation and we manipulated whether the animal was categorized as food, whether it was killed, and human responsibility for its death. The results demonstrate that categorization as food - but not killing or human responsibility - was sufficient to reduce the animal's perceived capacity to suffer, which in turn restricted moral concern. People may be able to love animals and love meat because animals categorized as food are seen as insensitive to pain and unworthy of moral consideration.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animal Rights
  • Animal Welfare / ethics*
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Female
  • Food Preferences*
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meat*
  • Middle Aged
  • Morals
  • Pain
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Young Adult