Measuring the meat paradox: How ambivalence towards meat influences moral disengagement

Appetite. 2018 Sep 1;128:152-158. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.06.011. Epub 2018 Jun 7.


Meat consumption elicits highly ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, it is associated with sensory pleasure and tradition; on the other hand, it is linked to moral, ecological, and health-related issues. This conflict is referred to as the meat paradox and it is hypothesized that people who experience the meat paradox resolve resulting discomfort by moral disengagement. However, ambivalence-a central process variable underlying the meat paradox-has never been measured directly, and theorizing on the meat paradox, so far, remains rather elusive. In the present investigation, we assessed meat-related ambivalence by tracking mouse trajectories of people who evaluated meat and plant-based dishes. By using this behavioral measure, our findings support the assumption that omnivores experience greater meat-related ambivalence and use moral disengagement strategies more frequently than non-omnivores. Importantly, our findings also show that experiencing meat-related ambivalence has far-reaching consequences: the larger behavioral ambivalence in omnivores, the higher the use of moral disengagement strategies. Thereby, our findings indicate the importance of ambivalence as a central process variable underlying the meat paradox and highlight how process-orientated research may contribute to our understanding of dietary practices and other potentially harmful behaviors.

Keywords: Ambivalence; Attitudes; Dissonance; Meat paradox; Moral disengagement.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Animals
  • Eating / psychology*
  • Female
  • Food Preferences / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meat*
  • Middle Aged
  • Morals*
  • Young Adult