Enrichment Arts & Culture

Children view eating meat as less morally acceptable, study finds

“Children are motivated to consider harm against the natural world, including animals, and as such we might want to consider beginning these discussions about food decisions early in life,” the study’s lead author Luke McGuire said.
a photo of a pig farm
Getty

Story at a glance

  • Researchers surveyed 459 individuals across three distinct age groups to measure how people determined an animal’s worth and how they believe certain species should be treated. 

  • The team sampled responses of children from ages 9-11, young adults between 18-21 and adults from 29-59.

  • They wrote that their research suggests there “are key age-related differences in our moral view of an animal’s worth that point to socially constructed development over the lifespan.”

Children are less likely to view eating meat as morally acceptable and their ability to justify using farm animals as a food source develops after age 11, according to a new study.  

Researchers surveyed 459 individuals across three distinct age groups to measure how people determined an animal’s worth and how they believe certain species should be treated.  

The team sampled responses of children from ages 9-11, young adults between 18-21 and adults from 29-59. They wrote that their research suggests there “are key age-related differences in our moral view of an animal’s worth that point to socially constructed development over the lifespan.”   

Researchers found people typically begin viewing specific animals as food somewhere after age 11.  

“Our findings suggest we need to consider how we talk to children about humans’ relationship with non-human animals,” the study’s lead author Luke McGuire said in a news release. “Children are motivated to consider harm against the natural world, including animals, and as such we might want to consider beginning these discussions about food decisions early in life.” 

Children ages 9-11 were also less likely to perceive a hierarchy between humans and animals and similarly less likely to view farm animals as a food source.  


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McGuire said the research was not designed to take a moral stance on meat consumption. Rather it was an effort at understanding how the need to consume meat develops. 

“As with all social psychological processes, it is worth stepping back to consider where these attitudes and cognitions come from,” McGuire said. “Critically examining our relationship with animals ought to be a primary goal of tackling climate change and one that begins in childhood.” 

McGuire noted that the study findings do not imply adults do not care for animals. Instead, it shows children are more likely to show concern for farm animals.  

The study was first published online on April 11 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.  


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