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Full Circle: Meat Eaters Really Are Selfish

The news didn’t shock or surprise me when it came out last August.

The Dutch Daily News:

“Meat brings out the worst in people. This is what psychologists of the Radboud University Nijmegen and Tilburg University concluded from varrious studies on the psychological significance of meat.

Thinking of meat makes people less socially and in many respects more “loutish”. It also appears that people are more likely to choose meat when they feel insecure, perhaps because it is a feeling of superiority or status displays, the researchers suggest.

Marcel Zeelenberg Tilburg professors (Economic psychology) and Diederik Stapel (consumer sciences and dean of Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences) and the Nijmegen Professor Roos Vonk (social psychology) examined the psychological significance of meat. “People say, meat is tasty, it’s healthy. But like many other meat products has also a symbolic and expressive value ‘, Zeelenberg explained. “Think of driving a Hummer or a Panda. With both you’ll get to your destination, but a Hummer is tougher. Like the Hummer meat is bad for the environment and climate. It is also bad for animals, the third world and our own health. But people can get quite upset when you tell them that. They are obviously very attached to their steak.”

The PETA Files:

Is it selfish to eat shellfish? The results of several studies in the Netherlands seem to indicate so. Three professors at two universities have determined that meat-eaters are more selfish and distant and less social than vegetarians are.

Of course, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that sentencing an animal (or several) to death for the fleeting taste of a turkey sandwich or bacon cheeseburger shows a certain lack of empathy, decency, and altruism. But the researchers studying the psychological impact of meat-eating concluded that carnivores are insecure people who feel the need to dominate others and be “the boss.” They eat animals as a way to feel superior. Vegetarians, on the other hand, are less selfish and less lonely—and therefore happier.

Could this mean that happiness is waiting at the end of the produce aisle? I’m pretty sure that leafy greens are a lot cheaper than therapy.

European Vegetarian and Animal News Alliance (EVANA):

People who eat meat are more selfish, less social and more distant.

At least that’s what three professors from Tilburg and Nijmegen report after having conducted several studies about the psychological impact of meat and meat eating. According to the findings carnivores feel superior to others whilst vegetarians and flexitarians are happier and less lonely.

Experiments indicated that insecure people preferred beef to eggs and fish. Another interesting finding is that participants who had looked at a picture of a cow and steak demonstrated a more selfish attitude in multiple choice tests, compared to those having been shown a tree.

The research was done by psychologist Marcel Zeelenberg, consumer scientist Diederik Stapel and psychologist Roos Vonk.

“Carnivores think more in terms of dominance and being the boss. Eating meat is a way to rise up above others, “says Vonk.

As was to be expected, this study has created already a super buzz in the country: Meateaters are not amused!

You get the drift.

The essentials of the thesis are these: as social animals, we’re hard wired to spurn “selfishness.” Meat, in general and on average, motivates us to be less concerned with social well-being and more concerned with ourselves. Therefore, meat is an anti-social influence. Ergo, Go Veg!

But there’s a huge confounder here. We didn’t really evolve as virtual slaves to some national identity with physical borders that can include other individuals numbering in the million and billions. No, we evolved to account for the values and actions of a few dozen other homies: “friends & family.”

So, to unravel this in an evolutionary sense, do you really think that thoughts of meat motivate you to exploit those closest to you for your own gain, in exchange for their loss?

You thought of meat; and so sorry mom, no card and flowers on Mother’s Day?

Sorry bro, I can’t help you with that project; I’ve come down with baby-back rib brain?

I don’t think so. Alternatively, how about if eating an evolutionarily appropriate diet of meat, fish, fowl, vegetables and fruit makes your brain perform at its best and so, you’re more likely to nurture your friends & family relationships while at the same time, not worrying too much if a stranger mother doesn’t get a car & flowers on Mother’s Day? And the brother of a friend of a friend of a friend’s friend? He’s on his own.

…And do you really think that honoring your mother, lending a hand to your brother, sitting at the bedside of a loved one for the days in advance of their eventual demise is selflessness? What, you don’t really value them, your relationship, the interconnectedness of mutual relationships with other friends and family who take stock of your actions towards the circle as a whole?

You see, I’m just honest enough with myself to realize and admit that when I’m lending a hand and building lasting value in my own close circle of relationships, that I’m being viscously selfish, because they are all so important to me.

Well, I guess none of this occurred to University of Tilburg Professor Diederik Stapel, because he was too busy faking his data.

A prominent Dutch social psychologist who once claimed to have shown that the very act of thinking about eating meat makes people behave more selfishly has been found to have faked data throughout much of his career.

In one of the worst cases of scientific fraud on record in the Netherlands, a review committee made up of some of the country’s top scientists has found that University of Tilburg Prof. Diederik Stapel systematically falsified data to achieve the results he wanted.

The university has fired the 45-year-old Stapel and plans to file fraud charges against him, university spokesman Walther Verhoeven said Thursday.

Stapel acknowledged in a statement the accusations were largely true.

“I have manipulated study data and fabricated investigations,” he wrote in an open letter published by De Volkskrant newspaper this week. “I realize that via this behavior I have left my direct colleagues stunned and angry and put my field, social psychology, in a poor light.”

Stapel said he was ashamed and offered his apologies.

So there you go, a “don’t believe everything you read” update.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

40 Comments

  1. Jorge on November 12, 2011 at 15:26

    Bullshit rarely escapes a thorough vetting in our wonderfully inquisitive, technological society. Is this the beginning of the rational age? It IS fun catching ’em w egg on their faces… how do shyster researchers or even meat packin’ lobbiests & back-room politicians (thanks Michael Moore!) imagine they can get away with their ideological crap? Oh yeah, they’re stupid! 🙂

  2. CP on November 12, 2011 at 17:30

    It’s not even necessary to vet this issue much before the bullshit meter goes off. This little PETA bit should do it: “Vegetarians, on the other hand, are less selfish and less lonely—and therefore happier.” Yes, thanks PETA for expressing your opinion and trying to make it sound like fact… they accomplished the near impossible feat of sounding like GWB explaining away the link between Iraq and 9/11.

    • John on November 13, 2011 at 08:54

      I have no idea how you measure selfishness, loneliness, and happiness in a scientific study, since they are all subjective terms. I also don’t believe that selfishness and loneliness are the only two factors in happiness, either.



  3. Ned Kock on November 13, 2011 at 10:23

    And, as Melissa pointed out, they can also be shellfish:

  4. Rob on November 12, 2011 at 20:27

    The Masai are very selfish.

  5. Stabby on November 12, 2011 at 22:13

    Ooh ooh, vegan ideologues to go Psychologyville. Let’s play! This is my all-time favorite game.

    Let’s assume that this guy is totally correct and isn’t lying through his teeth. So he has some correlative data. So? I suppose if you are a propagandist you will jump on the statistics wagon, what with the potential for damn lies and other promising endeavors. A good psychologist would be like “neat, now let’s go test it with a randomized controlled trial”, but oh no, not PETA. Turning the causality on its head, these behavioral traits tend to be associated with anxiety, and meat has been shown to have a calming effect on people leading me to a plausible hypothesis that it would be used as a coping mechanism, a delicious one at that. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1327703/Steaks-lamb-chops-calm-stressed-men-bringing-caveman-instincts.html In fact images of meat even made them less likely to punish their colleague, now whether or not that is the product of viewing food or specifically meat (think really hard, does viewing a carrot make you feel more calm and benevolent?) is unknown, but images of meat processing more benevolent and tranquil behavior completely contradicts PETA’s contention.

    So let’s see, this guy fakes his data, Dr. Campbell fakes some of his data, what’s going on here? I’m not going to say it/

  6. Full Circle: Meat Eaters Really Are Selfish | Free The Animal | Education for ALL | Scoop.it on November 13, 2011 at 16:42

    […] Full Circle: Meat Eaters Really Are Selfish | Free The Animal Of course, it shouldn't come as any surprise that sentencing an animal (or several) to death for the fleeting taste of a turkey sandwich or bacon cheeseburger shows a certain lack of empathy, decency, and altruism. Source: freetheanimal.com […]

  7. Michael Gold on November 13, 2011 at 07:46

    Prof. Diederik Stapel sure shows the essence of being selfless: dispensing with the truth; trying to fabricate reality to suit one’s whims or fears. There is nothing so selfish as a concern for and dedication to the truth. And that is practical. And is what I want in friends.

  8. John on November 13, 2011 at 08:51

    Too bad for Diederik Stapel that he didn’t work at the same time as Ancel Keys. Look at all the praise he got for falsifying his data.

  9. Peggy The Primal Parent on November 13, 2011 at 08:52

    Awe well it’s too bad he falsified all that data because I rather liked the sound of those results and your take on them. Sounds like me for sure – selfish, anti-social, distant – in a way. Back when I was a vegetarian I carried the weight of the world on my shoulders. I cared too much for people and the fate of humanity. It was weird. I always thought it was some kind of mental problem. I don’t know if that was the vegetarianism per se or if it was just my nutritional deficiencies at the time, but when I got healthy I got selfish and dropped off a ton of baggage behind me. I’ve never thought of it as a bad thing as PETA and the others are saying.

  10. rob on November 13, 2011 at 09:47

    If someone tries to take my animal flesh from me I will rip his arm off at the shoulder and beat him over the head with the bloody stump.

  11. Aaron Curl on November 13, 2011 at 09:53

    I for one, have become more selfless and caring but this could be linked to my meditations and being sick of the general population following CW for the truth. I kind of became a modern hippe I guess. I want peace on earth very much but I know I can’t spread peace buy hating others because they eat or feel different than me on different subjects. I just take care of my self (maybe a little selfish) and hope that others see a good example being set by me.

  12. Primal Toad on November 13, 2011 at 10:03

    Lies. There are so many lies out there. So many have a specific agenda. They go get a degree, maybe a PHD so they can be called an expert and looked up to. They can be trusted. Sometimes, yes. Sometimes their agenda is bullshit.

    One must read, read, read. Never stop educating yourself. Try this. Try that through experimentation Draw your own conclusions. Live your own life. Do this and people will start asking you questions in regards to how you eat and live. Then you can help change lives. Until then, support yourself.

  13. Steven on November 13, 2011 at 10:57

    Sweet land of vindication….

  14. William on November 13, 2011 at 13:18

    Meat brings out the worst in people. ”
    “meat-eaters are more selfish and distant and less social than vegetarians are.”
    “Thinking of meat makes people less socially and in many respects more “loutish”

    Well gosh, all this time I thought eating meat keeps my joint pain under control, mitigates a racing heart, keeps body fat low, and brings chronic heartburn to a screeching ass halt. And just forget the fact that I feel thirty years younger… how terribly selfish of me

    Sorry to overlook my role as a collectivized human being. Where do I sign up to become a self-hating, yet kind to humanity “New Man?”

  15. JoshS on November 13, 2011 at 18:59

    Then explain the prevalence of meat in EVERY major Western holiday and the massive family get togethers meat inspires…

  16. Dee Miles on November 13, 2011 at 19:27

    I no longer have much faith in “studies”. Although I realized studies have their place and can be insightful, I’ve become very jaded about research lately. Researchers looking for something generally find it no matter the results. I place more faith in the comment section of the blogs in this genre because real people are posting about real results of their own experiments. Highly valuable to others because it’s a way to find new and different approaches that may or may not work for the next guy.

    Not only are supposed researchers publishing bogus research, we are seeing good research being supressed or stolen. One such instance is told in the movie Burzynski. It’s about a biochemist who has a far better non-toxic cancer treatment than the conventional radiation/chemo. But the government wants to put him out of business, steal his invention and make it nearly impossible for him to obtain approval for the cancer treatment mainly because they KNOW it works and big pharma cannot stand to have a single person control this technology. It’s streaming on Netflix if anyone cares to check it out.

    On a different note, my husband and I just got back from picking up our 1/2 grassfed beef today. It’s nicely tucked away in the freezer for use throughout the next year or so. I am selfish because I want good for for my family and everyone else has the same right.

  17. Josh S on November 14, 2011 at 10:02

    Wait…the control group was shown a cow or a tree…not tofu or a salad? What a friggin’ joke… lets say the mechanism that causes their selfish choices was simple hunger (more likely IMO), now as much as I love me some meat if I were hungry and you showed me a salad or maybe even a veggie burger I’d start thinking about food and those subconcious desires for nourishment would begin to override my usual good nature.

  18. rob on November 14, 2011 at 12:20

    Did my weekly weigh-in at the gym and I’m down 2 1/2 pounds in a week on “pure paleo,” more than I expected.

    Mostly eating steak veggies and sweet potatoes. Only time I have a problem is when work gets stressful, then I crave a pizza.

    • Josh S on November 14, 2011 at 13:02

      WHY ARE YOU SO SELFISH AND HATEFUL ROB?!?!?!?!?!!? 😀

      Srsly tho, good job!



  19. Remnant on November 14, 2011 at 19:43

    Non-sequitor alert.

    Check out the following article about a study that analyzed the differences between musicians who became real virtuosos and musicians who just became decent journeymen.

    Hint: One group tended to practice using a combination of highly focused “sprint” sessions followed by lots of non-music-related “playtime and recreation”. The other group tended to practice in long drawnout “marathon” sessions.

    Art de Vany’s discussion of power laws comes to mind here.

    This is definitely food for thought for those interested in paleo: it really seems that regardless of the activity, the same principles tend to apply.

    One issue not discussed in the article is that there is a real chicken-and-egg problem with this approach: Maybe the people who practice “the right way” just do it inately, and those who lack that innate ability will not get good at an something even if they immitate those who are doing it the right way.

    http://calnewport.com/blog/2011/11/11/if-youre-busy-youre-doing-something-wrong-the-surprisingly-relaxed-lives-of-elite-achievers/

  20. Tracy on November 15, 2011 at 06:56

    “Another interesting finding is that participants who had looked at a picture of a cow and steak demonstrated a more selfish attitude in multiple choice tests, compared to those having been shown a tree.”

    *facepalm* I’m not often speechless. I am now.

    • Josh S on November 15, 2011 at 09:05

      Could it possibly that images of FOOD trigger “selfish” thoughts? how can they even consider that comparison valid?!?!



    • Richard Nikoley on November 15, 2011 at 09:40

      Heh. “I’m hungry and so want to eat.” I’m so “selfish.”

      Morons.



  21. Ursula Grobler on November 15, 2011 at 09:45

    I’m training as a 2012 Olympic Rowing hopeful and I’m spending some time here in the Netherlands. And I can say that the meat does come in small quantities here. As a paleo athlete in a power-endurance sport, I sure need my protein from meat, but these small packages does make a nice portion control. I don’t believe at all that meat makes you feel selfish, or its part of emotional eating, but I do believe we have a responsibility as followers of a Paleo lifestyle to advocate for sustainable meat practices. This will mean less meat, since we are not buying Costco bulk supplied by Tyson who raise cattle in a cramped, corn-fed, hormone-forced, poop trudging lot, nor our chickens. At least from reading the article I got to learn a new word :loutish!

    • rob on November 15, 2011 at 13:58

      So you are saying I should limit the amount of meat I eat to less than I would like to eat, because eating the amount of meat I want to eat is not sustainable … but there is no sign that raising cattle for human consumption is not sustainable, I drive through cattle country here in Florida a couple of times a week and there are cows EVERYWHERE, hundreds upon hundreds of them, and those are just the ones I can see from the highway. There are so many cows they have to fence them in so they don’t wander off and get hit by a truck.

      If we were talking about eating meat that came from a Siberian tiger then I would agree that the practice is not sustainable, there are too few of them, we would run out of tigers in a matter of hours … but we have millions of cows.



    • Richard Nikoley on November 15, 2011 at 14:04

      “If we were talking about eating meat that came from a Siberian tiger then I would agree that the practice is not sustainable, there are too few of them, we would run out of tigers in a matter of hours … but we have millions of cows.”

      So what do you think might happen if we suddenly acquired a taste for tigers or bald eagles?



    • rob on November 15, 2011 at 15:56

      As far as bald eagles go, plucking the feathers is a pain in the ass and the meat is a bit gamy for most people. If eating bald eagles became a tradition eventually they would breed bald eagles with breasts so large that they would be incapable of flight.

      A taste for tigers would result in enormous tiger ranches but I would hate to be a cowboy on that ranch … trying to drive 2,000 tigers from the ranch to the slaughterhouse would be sheer hell …. you’d go “Get along little doggie” and all of a sudden hundreds of apex predators would be all over you like white on rice.



    • Richard Nikoley on November 15, 2011 at 20:00

      Rob, you get the essentials of my point.

      The details are in the details.



    • Txomin on November 16, 2011 at 03:36

      Predators are generally not cost effective for farming. This is already a huge problem with predatory fish, such as tuna.



    • Josh S on November 16, 2011 at 06:27

      Rob- are you talking about the Madison, FL area? I drive through there fairly often for work and I wish I could take the anti-meattards out there and show them exactly how this stuff works. Every flat spot has crops planted on it, every hilly spot is beautiful, lush pasture…. BECAUSE YOU CAN’T FRIGGIN GROW CROPS ON HILLY LAND!!!!



    • rob on November 16, 2011 at 13:37

      I drive Route 60 from the west coast across the state through Yeehaw Junction to I-95 on the east coast, then down to South Florida … family stuff.

      The land is cattle, oranges and sod. I’ve become a bird-watcher from the trip, have seen a bunch of neat birds.

      It makes me wonder about the whole “grass fed” thing because all the cows do is eat grass. Young cows, old cows, baby cows … they spend the whole day eating grass. I don’t think they are boutique cows because Florida is one of the big cattle states, I see a number of “Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner” signs.



    • Richard Nikoley on November 16, 2011 at 13:44

      All cattle are grass fed to a point. It’s when they get shipped off to the CAFO for fattening and slaughter that they are fed grain.



  22. Jennifer on November 15, 2011 at 11:00

    I’m fairly certain their data is correct. Unfortunately, they are interpretting it 100% wrong.

    Meat eaters have their good nutrition and they don’t need others right now.

    Vegetarians have rotten nutrition and they are schmoozing others to try and get more or better food. Today we interpret that as being “social” as if that’s good. In fact, they are trolling for nutrition and are just the dogs around the fire waiting for someone to throw them a scrap.

    Scientists can be such morons that it’s embarrassing they get paid for that drivel.

    • Steven on November 16, 2011 at 13:21

      “Vegetarians… are just the dogs around the fire waiting for someone to throw them a scrap.”

      LOL – 🙂



  23. Tin Tin on November 15, 2011 at 17:45

    Let’s not forget the thousands of blog posts and many more interactive comments an evil flesh eater such as yourself has shared with the world for free. Surely this alone shows just how selfish eating meat has made you.

  24. Txomin on November 16, 2011 at 03:31

    “…perhaps because it is a feeling of superiority or status displays, the researchers suggest”.

    Wild, unsupported speculation screams out of that phrase as does from every other passage, paper, and statement.

    So, it turns out the original “study” was faked? Geez, how do you fake data like “perhaps because”.

    I have already said it many times before. Read everything critically, people, regardless of its source.

  25. Sparkleplenty on November 17, 2011 at 10:46

    Huh. As a healthcare practitioner who is personally Paleo, it’s been my observation over the years that vegetarians (and even moreso, vegans) are anxious, unhappy, unhealthy and fragile. They concern themselves with global issues because they have so many problems relating to those around them. And because they have such difficulty and they are basically nice people, they become guilty and tend to take on the problems of the world, often to obsession. Basically, veganism seems to be the hair shirt of the new Millenium.

  26. Maciano on November 27, 2011 at 11:34

    Roos Vonk has become a laughing stock in our country. Diederik Stapel exceeds her, he even made it to ‘Nature’ and became the laughing stock of the world.

    • Richard Nikoley on November 27, 2011 at 12:27

      Good to learn of Dutch good sense, Maciano. That’s justice.



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