Meat eaters face dissonance whether it results from inconsistency ("I eat meat; I don't like to hurt animals"), aversive consequences ("I eat meat; eating meat harms animals"), or threats to self image ("I eat meat; compassionate people don't hurt animals"). The present work proposes that there are a number of strategies that omnivores adopt to reduce this dissonance including avoidance, dissociation, perceived behavioral change, denial of animal pain, denial of animal mind, pro-meat justifications, reducing perceived choice, and actual behavioral change. The presence of vegetarians was speculated to cause meat eating to be a scrutinized behavior, remind meat eaters of their discomfort, and undermine the effectiveness of these strategies. It was therefore hypothesized that exposure to a description of a vegetarian would lead omnivores to embrace dissonance-reducing strategies. Supporting this hypothesis, participants who read a vignette about a vegetarian denied animal mind more than participants who read about a gluten-free individual. It was also hypothesized that omnivores would be sensitive to individual differences between vegetarians and would demonstrate using dissonance-reducing strategies more when the situation failed to provide cognitions consonant with eating meat or to reduce dissonant cognitions. Four experiments supported this prediction and found that authentic vegetarians, vegetarians freely making the decision to abandon meat, consistent vegetarians, and anticipating moral reproach from vegetarians produced greater endorsement of dissonance-reducing strategies than their counterpart conditions.
Keywords: Cognitive dissonance; Human–animal emotional similarity; Meat eating; Moral disengagement; Omnivores; Vegetarians.
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