Looking at images of baby animals reduces people's appetite for eating meat, according to new research from Lancaster University.
The pictures have a much stronger effect on women than men, say researchers who exposed them both to images of calves, baby 'joey' kangaroos, piglets and lambs and tested whether this affected their desire for meat.
"We found that both men and women find baby farmed animals to be cute and vulnerable, and experience feelings of tenderness and warmth towards them.Feeling tenderness towards a baby animal appears to be an oppositional force on appetite for meat for many people, especially women," says the researchers.
Psychologists Dr. Jared Piazza and Dr. Neil McLatchie of Lancaster University, with Cecilie Olesen of University College London, first presented participants with an image of a cooked meat dish paired with an image from either a familiar animal (calf or bull) or exotic animal (baby or adult kangaroo). The participants were told the meat came from the animal depicted.
Dr. Piazza said: "We found that men and women differed in how appetizing they considered the meat dishes when the meat was paired with a baby animal image, with women's appetite for meat much lower than men's appetite, regardless of whether the meat was from a familiar or exotic source."
A follow-up study asked people to rate their appetite for meat when presented with an image of either a calf, cow or no animal. The meat dish became less appetising after people had looked at images of the calf while there was little difference in terms of whether they had previously looked at images of the cow or no animal at all.
According to Dr. Piazza: "Our findings may reflect women's greater emotional attunement towards babies and, by extension, their tendency to empathise more with baby animals.
"Also, meat is associated with masculinity and images of tough men who consume meat for muscle building protein, along with prehistoric ideas of the male as hunter. Women have a much more ambivalent attitude towards meat and their identity is not bound up with it in the same way.
"Our results highlight a tension within some omnivores between caring for baby animals and appetite for meat."
He added that animal advocacy groups would be wise to focus on images of cute baby animals in their publicity, particularly when focused on young women.