'Piggy playtime' reduces likelihood of people eating pork, research finds

pork chopsPiggy playtime reduces likelihood of people eating pork
25/06/2019 - 05:00
The idea of eating pork is less appealing after being exposed to the idea that pigs have some human-like characteristics, according to research from the London School of Economics and Political Sciences (LSE).

However, when cows were depicted in a similar way it did not put people off buying or eating beef.

The data was collected from participants in the Unites States. Vegans, vegetarians, pescetarians and people whose religious beliefs prevent them from eating pork or beef were excluded from the research.

Dr Frédéric Basso, assistant professor in LSE’s department of psychological and behavioural science and co-author of the paper, said: “We were primarily interested in how anthropomorphism influences the way people think on an unconscious level. Previous research has shown that exposure to scientific knowledge about pigs’ intelligence doesn’t discourage meat eaters from eating pork.

“Therefore, inspired by the metaphor ‘animals are friends’, we decided to anthropomorphise pigs to see whether, by doing so, we could affect people’s feelings in a way that would change their everyday attitudes where rational thinking doesn’t.”

The findings

The research showed that participants felt guilty about eating pork when pigs where given human characteristics (the ability to make friends with humans and each other) but not with cows when they were depicted in the same way.

Groups of participants were shown websites of fictitious cafés, restaurants and meat brands selling pork or beef. They were given a description of how the animals were reared then asked how likely they were to eat the product.

In one study participants were shown web pages for ‘Mr Piggy’s Café’ where customers could play with the piglets. Participants were told the piglets were like dogs and that they loved interactive games. One group of participants were told it was a vegetarian café and the other group were told the café served pork. The group who were told the café served pork believed that eating there would be a less enjoyable experience.

In another study participants were divided into three groups each looking at different web pages for a pork brand called 'Mr Piggy’s', which offered ‘delicious pork chops.’ Group one read that the pigs played games with the staff which suggested they were ‘friends’, group two read the pigs were friends with each other and group three read the pigs were raised to excellent welfare standards. The groups where the pigs showed human characteristics (the ability to make friends) said they were less likely to buy products from the pork brand. Guilt was putting people off the idea of eating pork when pigs had been anthropomorphised.

A similar experiment was run for a brand called ‘Mr Moos’ with the idea that cows could be friends with each other or humans but this did not impact the likelihood of people buying beef products.

Possible explanation

Feiyang Wang, a researcher at LSE and the paper’s lead author, said: “Pigs have long been anthropomorphised and depicted as being highly social in films, books and cartoons such as Babe and George Orwell’s Animal Farm, in a way that cows have not.

“This may be why we see such a difference in the way people respond to the idea of eating these two kinds of animals even when they are portrayed in similarly human-like terms.

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