Saturday, December 1, 2007

Wacky Belgian Psychologists

Life in Orillia has been pretty busy so far, and I haven't had much time to poke around looking for neat veggie studies in the journal databases I have access to - coming up with material like this.

I did find a slightly strange article in the International Journal of Psychology today though. (If you want the citation, it's 2007 42(3), pgs 158-165). The article is titled Implicit attitudes towards meat and vegetables in vegetarians and nonvegetarians and it was written by Jan De Houwer and Els De Bruycker from Ghent University in Belgium.

I'm going to VASTLY simplify the study which they conducted using 47 vegetarians and 49 nonvegetarians - a) because I don't really understand their full methods, and b) the more I try to explain what they did, the less amusing the study becomes, and so, rather than describe their research as an Implicit Association Test (IAT) run alongside an Extrinsic Affective Simon Task (EAST), I'll call their work the "YUCK!! GET THAT HAMBURGER AWAY FROM ME!!!!" study.

Basically, the participants were shown a bunch of pictures - happy babies, crying babies, sunsets, homeless life, vegetables and meat products etc - and were asked to press either a "negative" or a "positive" button depending on what sort of connotations the picture had for them. The two researchers were trying to provoke implicit attitudes towards meat - "Implicit attitudes can be defined as attitudes that are activated automatically, that is, when little time or process resources are available, when participants are unaware of the stimuli that activate the attitude."
So - although many vegetarians have logical reasons for their lifestyle... "Why don't you eat meat?" "Oh, you know, the animal cruelty thing is important to me, but it has also been well proven that meat farming is disastrous for the environment, and that vegetarians are much healthier than omnivores" - these guys were trying to zone in on instantaneous gut reactions towards pictures of meat.

Guess what the researchers found! "We demonstrated for the first time that vegetarians and nonvegetarians differ not only in their self-reported attitudes towards meat and vegetables, but also in their implicit attitudes towards these objects, that is, in the spontaneous, automatic affective reactions that these objects evoke.... the EAST results suggest that, compared to nonvegetarians, vegetarians have both a more negative implicit attitude towards meat and a more positive implicit attitude towards vegetables."

I just find this all amusing because I picture a bunch of vegetarians sitting at computers, seeing pictures of hamburgers and automatically associating the picture with a slaughtered cow, and hammering the negative "Dead Cow!! Dead Cow!!" button.

And actually, this study reminds me of the Joaquin Phoenix Veggie video on You Tube, where he stops dead in his tracks at the supermarket when he comes to the meat aisle.

1 comment:

Nicole said...

Interesting study and great video.