The BuzzFeed video Bacon Lovers Meet Baby Pigs (warning: contains adult language), which shows men and women that are waiting for a delicious plate of bacon but are instead delivered an adorable baby pig, already has 14,493,383 views.
The video intends to illustrate how we ignore our feelings for animals when we eat them. The clip had some participants saying they would never eat pork again, while others were unaffected, having made peace with the realities of eating meat.
Although the video is meant to be entertaining, it also unintentionally shows how sometimes men and women react differently to the idea of killing animals for food. Research often shows that men are bigger meat-eaters. Women are also more apt to reject meat for reasons related to appearance, taste, health, environmental concerns, and animal welfare. Meanwhile, men tend to identify with meat, perhaps given the historical association between meat and masculinity.
Psychologist Hank Rothgerber has shown how men justify eating meat as a belief in the superiority of humans over animals. In a recent study, when asked on a scale of 1-9 where nine meant “strongly agree” men scored a 6 in terms of pro-meat attitudes, while women scored a 4.5.
Rothgerber found that women are usually more empathetic towards the plight of animals in comparison to men. This empathy is even more visible when a woman is presented with a baby animal. Since baby animals share the same vulnerable and cute characteristics of human babies, women tend to react more maternally towards these animals.
In three studies, where 781 American men and women were presented with either images of baby animals or their adult counterparts and these images were paired with a related meat dish, women generally found the dish less appetizing when it came from a baby animal. Men were usually less affected by these images.
The studies did not look at the long-term effects of exposure to these images and whether men or women reduced or halted their meat intake. Yet the “baby-tenderness effect” is actively used by animal welfare groups’ literature to awaken sympathy for animals and to reduce their consumption.