Culturing meat from animal cells is an alternative to factory farming, a practice that raises ethical, social, and environmental issues. However, culturing meat remains controversial, with “unnaturalness” frequently cited as a concern. Yale researchers led by Matti Wilks conducted a study to better understand psychological motivators of these negative perceptions. “We were trying to understand who was rejecting cultured meat and what kinds of personality traits were associated with disliking it,” Wilks explained.
After examining correlations between naturalness and acceptability for several processes—for example, growing an apple—researchers observed that culturing meat scored around the average. Next, they found that people with higher disgust sensitivity and conspiratorial ideation levels tended to view cultured meat more negatively. Researchers also examined attitudes and unnaturalness ratings for specific beliefs about cultured meat, such as the perception that it is highly processed. Interestingly, the view most correlated with unnaturalness was related to safety, not naturalness. Meat grinding—the only step shared with farm meat production—was rated to be the least natural step of cultured meat production.
These findings suggest that emotion, rather than logic, may play a big role in the perception of cultured meat as unnatural. This may be problematic, as current strategies to ameliorate such negative opinions focus on rationally educating the public. “I think the question we should be asking is how can we make people feel more comfortable with cultured meat,” Wilks said. In the near future, the researchers hope to find causal evidence for the role of emotion in cultured meat perception.
1. Wilks, M., Hornsey, M., & Bloom, P. (2021). What does it mean to say that cultured meat is unnatural? Appetite, 156, 104960. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2020.104960.
2. Wilks, Matti. Personal communication. February 8, 2021.