November 08, 2010
Seeing Meat Makes Men Less Aggressive?

Be careful around vegetarians. They rarely get the calming benefit of looking at meat. A researcher found that the sight of meat made men less aggressive.

Frank Kachanoff was surprised. He thought the sight of meat on the table would make people more aggressive, not less. After all, don’t football coaches feed their players big hunks of red meat before a game in hopes of pumping them up? And what about our images of a grunting or growling animal snarling at anyone who dares take their meat away from them? Wouldn’t that go for humans, too?

Kachanoff, a researcher with a special interest in evolution at McGill University’s Department of Psychology, has discovered quite the reverse. According to research presented at a recent symposium at McGill, seeing meat appears to make human beings significantly less aggressive. “I was inspired by research on priming and aggression, that has shown that just looking at an object which is learned to be associated with aggression, such as a gun, can make someone more likely to behave aggressively. I wanted to know if we might respond aggressively to certain stimuli in our environment not because of learned associations, but because of an innate predisposition. I wanted to know if just looking at the meat would suffice to provoke an aggressive behavior.”

This makes sense in a way: Hunters had to be aggressive during the hunt. But once the deer, antelope, moose, or buffalo was brought down and cut open there was no more need for the aggression needed during the hunt.

Does this also speak against hamburgers? Does hiding meat under the bun deprive us of the relaxation that meat should bring us? Should we prefer rare steaks? I am guessing that redder meat works better to calm down wild guys.

Update: If meat makes men less aggressive then does our modern environment (where men rarely hunt) leave us visually deficient to meat exposure?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 November 08 10:18 PM  Brain Innate

Phillep Harding said at November 10, 2010 11:35 AM:

Did they control for smell?

Phillep Harding said at November 10, 2010 2:13 PM:

Oops. So they did control for smell. The next study should check for reaction to /any/ type of ready to eat food.

JCLJ said at November 13, 2010 1:26 PM:

Randall why are you assuming that aggression is an undesirable quality? What the f*ck?

Randall Parker said at November 13, 2010 8:24 PM:


Good question. I think if aggression is channeled it can be very productive. Also, aggression sometimes helps one defend one's rights both politically and in a dark alley.

But we are no longer hunter-gatherers of old, frequently exposed to the calming results of a hunt. So we might feel aggressiveness in settings where it is counterproductive.

Audacious Epigone said at November 24, 2010 1:46 PM:

Hunter and gatherer societies tend to be very egalitarian. The successful male hunter boasting about the kill or attempting to get first dibs on the meat are among behaviors most severely punished by the rest of the group. So collectively it makes sense that during the hunt the men are aggressive, but once it has been successfully completed, they mellow out to eat.

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