Mind your meat: Religious differences in the social perception of animals

Kunalan Manokara, Albert Lee, Shanmukh V. Kamble, Eva G. Krumhuber
Published Online:
30 Sep 2020

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While previous work demonstrated that animals are categorised based on their edibility, little research has systematically evaluated the role of religion in the perception of animal edibility, particularly when specific animals are deemed sacred in a religion. In two studies, we explored a key psychological mechanism through which sacred animals are deemed inedible by members of a faith: mind attribution. In Study 1, non‐vegetarian Hindus in Singapore (N = 70) evaluated 19 animals that differed in terms of their sacredness and edibility. Results showed that participants categorised animals into three groups: holy animals (high sacredness but low edibility), food animals (low sacredness but high edibility) and neutral animals (low sacredness and low edibility). Holy animals were deemed to possess greater mental life compared to other animal categories. In Study 2, we replicated this key finding with Hindus in India (N = 100), and further demonstrated that the observed pattern of results was specific to Hindus but not Muslims (N = 90). In both studies, mind attribution mediated the negative association between sacredness and edibility. Our findings illustrate how religious groups diverge in animal perception, thereby highlighting the role of mind attribution as a crucial link between sacredness and edibility.

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