The humanity of what we eat: Conceptions of human uniqueness among vegetarians and omnivores


  • The first two authors contributed equally to this article.


Studies on dehumanization demonstrated that denying certain human characteristics might serve as a strategy for moral disengagement. Meat consumption—especially in the times of cruel animal farming—is related to the exclusion of animals from the human scope of justice. In the present research, it was hypothesized that the conception of human uniqueness (denying animals certain psychological characteristics) might be a strategy of meat-eaters' moral disengagement. Three studies compared the extent to which vegetarians and omnivores attribute psychological characteristics to humans versus animals. In Study 1, vegetarian participants ascribed more secondary (uniquely human) emotions to animals than did the omnivores; however, there were no differences in primary (animalistic) emotions. Study 2 showed that omnivores distinguish human characteristics from animalistic ones more sharply than vegetarians do, while both groups do not differ in distinguishing human characteristics from mechanistic ones. Study 3 confirmed the results by showing that omnivores ascribed less secondary emotions to traditionally edible animals than to the non-edible species, while vegetarians did not differentiate these animals. These results support the claim that the lay conceptions of ‘human uniqueness’ are strategies of moral disengagement. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.