Dissociating meat from its animal origins: A systematic literature review

Appetite. 2020 Apr 1:147:104554. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2019.104554. Epub 2019 Dec 9.


Meat eaters often have an ambivalent relationship with the common practice of killing animals for food. They enjoy the taste of meat but dislike the harming of animals that it entails. This moral conflict, often referred to as the 'meat paradox,' tends to result in cognitive dissonance that meat eaters need to resolve. One of the arguably most basic strategies to deal with this dissonance is to cognitively dissociate meat from its animal origins. Whereas philosophers for long time have theorized about the role of such dissociation for consumer behavior, researchers have only recently started to empirically investigate the phenomenon. Here, we present the first systematic literature review of research on consumers' tendency to dissociate meat from its animal origins. Twenty-one publications comprising eight qualitative, one mixed-methods, four correlational, and twenty experimental/interventional studies were identified, which all provided support for the central psychological role of dissociation for meat consumption. However, the review also revealed the need for further research on moderating variables such as gender, age and generation, dietary styles, and people's place of living, including cross-cultural differences. Strikingly, no study so far seems to have included behavioral outcomes, urging the need for future research on how dissociation might affect behavior.

Keywords: Animals; Cognitive dissonance; Dissociation; Literature review; Meat consumption; Meat paradox.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Cognitive Dissonance
  • Consumer Behavior*
  • Diet / psychology*
  • Eating / psychology
  • Female
  • Food Preferences / psychology*
  • Human-Animal Interaction*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meat*
  • Morals