Vegetarians and vegans and
Have you ever wondered why some people are vegan or vegetarian? If you are a vegan or vegetarian there is now research to show how our brains work in a different way to people who eat meat, and we are more empathetic to suffering in both humans (conspecifics) and animals than omnivores.
One interesting group I want to research are a subgroup of Straight edge called Hardline who are punk fundamentalists and into radical deep ecology which includes veganism. In the following few weblogs I will be covering my findings with interviews and insights from the Hardline punk scene.
For now though I found a piece of research that looks at feeding habits and levels of empathy associated with the different groups (vegan, vegetarian and omnivores).
The Brain Functional Networks Associated to Human and Animal Suffering Differ among Omnivores, Vegetarians and Vegans is a neurology experiment using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The study postulated that neural responses to negative images of suffering involving both humans and animals differed amongst omnivores, vegetarians and vegans. The study was the first to measure neural correlations of empathy towards non-conspecifics in people with different social norms and their feeding habits (Filippi M, Riccitelli G, Falini A, Di Salle F, Vuilleumier P, et al. 2010).
Vegetarian and veganism
The term veganism was an extension of vegetarianism and sees all life as sentient, rejecting any animal suffering (including dairy, honey, and so on ), whereas vegetarians still eat dairy. Ethically speaking, vegans believe it is wrong to use and kill animals. This philosophy is based on ‘values and attitudes toward life, nature, and society’, which is more than just a food choice (Filippi M, Riccitelli G, Falini A, Di Salle F, Vuilleumier P, et al, 2010: 2).
The study comprised of 60 right-handed healthy subjects with different feeding habits, 20 omnivores, 19 vegetarians, and 21 vegans. The paper did not explain how they arrived at those numbers.
The experimental design, using fMRI attached to the subject’s head, presented them with 150 pictures (40 human suffering, 40 animal suffering and 70 pleasant landscapes) in random order, using presentation software specifically designed for neurology (www.neuro-bs.com version 9.70). The experiment was designed to see if visual representations of abuse and suffering affected people with different feeding choices and to monitor the different components of the brain’s networks associated with empathy and social cognition. They tested why the neural processes, showing empathy in vegetarians and vegans, extended to animals more than the omnivore subjects. It also comprised of a questionnaire based on an empathy assessment, showing an Empathy Quotient (EQ) score.
The main finding was a commonality of the functional architecture of emotional processing in vegetarians and vegans. It found that the vegetarians and vegans had a higher activation of empathy, related to areas of the brain, than omnivores, during both negative human and animal scenes, regardless of species. The part of the brain network that causes this is thought to be associated with emotions and social behaviour (D’Argembeau, A., Stawarczyk, D., Majerus, S., Collette, F., Van der Linden, M., et al, (2009).
Filippi M, Riccitelli G, Falini A, Di Salle F, Vuilleumier P, et al conclude that brain responses are evoked via negative images of suffering and significantly differ between vegetarians, vegans and omnivores as a comparison group. Also, there was a significant difference between the vegetarians and vegans. They suggest, therefore, different motivational factors are responsible for this, due to individual preferences and moral attitudes. (Filippi M, Riccitelli G, Falini A, Di Salle F, Vuilleumier P, et al 2010).
Table 1 sums up the findings and Figure 1 shows each feeding groups outcomes from the fMRI.
Responded more to human suffering than animal suffering.
Displayed more emotional empathy to human suffering than both the omnivores and vegans but slightly less than the vegans to animal suffering but more than the omnivores.
Responded the most to animal suffering than the vegetarians and omnivores and only slightly less than the vegetarians to human suffering, however it was more than the omnivores.
Table 1 – Feeding habits and empathy response to human and animal suffering images.
This is a very interesting experiment! I guess that the vegans already know that we are more empathetic to the animal suffering, even more than to the human in some cases; anyway it is good to see the scientific results just in our faces so we can share them. I will definitely follow it.
Thank you for your comments… It does seem strange to me that not more research is done on this, so I will be digging deeper to find out more.
As we face an ecological uncertain future, we have to accept that our feeding habits will HAVE to change so I’m very keen to get this debate on the table as it were =:)
I like you are so into this! I see a lot of stuff related with the animal suffering and healthy tips every day, but I haven’t seen something like this yet, so I’d rather to have more objective data to compensate the imbalance.
Good way of looking at it Nina.
Basically it’s because I am a punk and we always say it how it is and question everything. Also I’m not trying to promote or sell anything so I have nothing to lose.