SCIENCE!!!!! Uncovers the Thriller that Individuals Might Have Combined Emotions About their Dietary Decisions – Watts Up With That?

In a previous post of mine How to Convince those Dumb Deniers Part Eleventy Fifty-Seven I noted:

Much of what passes for Science® these days is the construction of some focus groups given various subjective A/B tests, then followed up by detailed statistical analysis of subjective surveys of the participants. Not just “Climate Communications”. I’ve seen the same thing in other soft subjects, such as “Design Science” for years.

Here’s another in the genre. I may make posting about these peer reviewed Science® “studies” a regular thing. There seems to be no lack of low hanging fruit.

On to today’s embarrassment for academia:

One of the more bizarre aspects of this paper is their term for vegetarians and vegans combined “veg*ans”, which feels either PC, avoiding spelling out a bad word, or religious, avoiding writing a sacred word, in its construction.

I guess their big contribution is they looked at meat eaters AND veg*ans.


Eating meat is a prime example of cognitive conflict. Research on meat-related conflict has focused on people who eat meat (omnivores), and mostly neglected that people who avoid eating meat (vegetarians and vegans; veg*ans) can also experience conflict in the form of ambivalence. Here, we provide a conceptual model explaining how ambivalence comes to exist in omnivores and veg*ans, and how it is associated with dietary behavior. We hypothesize that ambivalence in omnivores arises when they become aware of the negative aspects of meat. Yet, even veg*ans, who predominantly hold negative attitudes towards meat, may experience ambivalence if past positive attitudes resurface. We investigated this model in a cross-sectional study (N = 1028) via the stages of change, which explain qualitative steps in people’s adoption and maintenance of new behaviors such as a veg*an diet. Our data show that meat consumption decreases linearly across the five stages of change. In line with our model, ambivalence increases from the pre-contemplation via the contemplation to the preparation stage among omnivores and decreases right after people become veg*ans (action stage) until they reach the maintenance stage. This inverted u-shaped trajectory was accompanied by a) an increase in negative evaluations of meat and b) a decrease in positive evaluations of meat from the pre-contemplation to the preparation stage. However, especially positive hedonic evaluations that render meat pleasurable partly persisted in the action stage and only dissolved in the maintenance stage. We thus argue that the observed pattern of felt ambivalence might explain why a growing number of people become open to eschewing meat and why veg*ans often eat meat and/or return to their omnivorous diets shortly after becoming veg*an.

Of course they assume all of the antiquated invalid assumptions and poor nutrition science about meat eating and production, mixed in with some truth, such as ethical considerations, and perhaps zoonotic diseases. But taking that part on is beyond the scope of this article.

Human food systems, and especially meat consumption, are responsible for some of humanity’s greatest challenges. In 2018, 69 billion chickens, 1.5 billion pigs, 656 million turkeys, 574 million sheep, 479 million goats, and 302 million cattle were slaughtered worldwide (Ritchie & Roser, 2019). To farm this number of animals, a vast amount of land and resources is necessary (Poore & Nemecek, 2018), making meat consumption a primary contributor to water and air pollution (Godfray et al., 2018, p. 361), climate change (Tilman & Clark, 2014), and biodiversity loss (Westhoek et al., 2011). Eating meat (especially processed red meat) is also linked to higher mortality rates, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer (Afshin et al., 2019; Willett et al., 2019), and it has recently been linked to antibiotic resistance (Godfray et al., 2018, p. 361) and the spread of zoonotic diseases such as avian influenza (Espinosa et al., 2020). Thus, many people are increasingly aware of the downsides of eating meat concerning animal welfare, human health, and the environment (Godfray et al., 2018, p. 361; Joy, 2011; Siegrist et al., 2015; Willett et al., 2019).

Then they acknowledge some truth.

At the same time, many people think of meat as something positive because of its nutritional density, taste, or the cultural traditions associated with it (Leroy & Praet, 2015; Rosenfeld & Tomiyama, 2019). Indeed, meat is rich in protein, iron, and zinc. Some scholars have suggested that people learned the association between these nutrients and the taste of meat, which might have fueled people’s desire for meat’s umami taste (Griffioen-Roose et al., 2011; Morrison et al., 2012). Beyond that, meat also played a pivotal role in the evolution of human social activities, being part of many culinary rituals and traditions revolving around food up to today (Leroy & Praet, 2015). Thus, eating meat is an integral part of most societies across the world (Ruby, 2012).

People are bombarded with a lot of information both true and false. People also make observations about their own lives, health, and well-being after various choices which leads us to:

Due to the potential negative associations of meat, it is unsurprising that omnivores experience ambivalence in a variety of situations where their predominant positive attitude is opposed by negative associations (Berndsen & van der Pligt, 2004; Buttlar et al., 2023). This refers to situations where they realize meat’s downsides referring to animal welfare, health, or environmental issues, but omnivores may also experience ambivalence due to social ramifications of eating (such as discussions with veg*ans) and negative sensory experiences (such as biting into cartilage). In fact, 94.3% of omnivores in a German student sample report knowing about associations that oppose their predominant attitude (Buttlar et al., 2023); and 66.8% of omnivores in a representative German sample indicated they experience at least some conflict (Pauer et al., 2022).

Due to potential positive associations, there are also many situations in which veg*ans experience meat-related ambivalence. In contrast to omnivores, however, their ambivalence stems mostly from positive associations because they predominantly hold negative attitudes toward meat (Barr & Chapman, 2002; Buttlar et al., 2023; Buttlar & Walther, 2018). This especially occurs in situations where veg*ans consider meat’s benefits for health, acknowledge the social function of eating meat, or crave the taste of meat; thus, 70.8% of veg*an German students also report to be aware of such positive associations when being asked about their conflicts (Buttlar et al., 2023).

As felt ambivalence is discomforting, people try to resolve it (van Harreveld, van der Pligt, & de Liver, 2009). As a consequence, omnivores eat less meat and veg*ans eat more meat if they experience ambivalence (Buttlar et al., 2023). This suggests that ambivalence weakens the associations between attitude and behavior due to the presence of associations that conflict with people’s predominant attitudes (Armitage & Conner, 2000; Conner et al., 2021). It is not only the attitude-behavior link, however, that leads to these effects. In fact, both dietary groups seek information to resolve their conflict (Buttlar et al., 2023)—presumably because they anticipate that information-seeking reduces ambivalence-induced discomfort (Pauer et al., 2022). This and other processes might explain how the effects of ambivalence as a meta-cognitive conflict go beyond the effects of attitudes toward dietary behavior in omnivores and veg*ans (Buttlar et al., 2023; Pauer et al., 2023).

Now comes the Sciencey® part.

In the present research, we outline and test a conceptual model that draws on the PAST model (“past attitudes are still there”; Petty et al., 2006). The PAST model assumes that people experience ambivalence when their attitudes change. People change their attitudes if they acquire information inconsistent with their prior attitudes. Per definition, this in itself may result in ambivalence before an attitude is ultimately changed (van Harreveld et al., 2015). Regarding meat consumption, omnivores might, for instance, become aware of the negative aspects of eating meat, pertaining, for example, to animal welfare, environmental, or health issues (Berndsen & van der Pligt, 2004).

Crucially, the PAST model outlines further that ambivalence may remain even when people realize that their prior attitude is obsolete and become veg*ans. This is because past attitudes do not entirely cease after attitudes have changed. Instead, people need to tag past attitudes as wrong to repress them. Support for this notion comes from qualitative studies on meat-related conflicts. For instance, one participant in the study by Buttlar et al. (2023) stated: “Sometimes I feel a conflict towards meat when it is prepared and smells good, but I would not eat it. In these moments, I think it is wrong what I feel”. (cf. Table 1; Buttlar et al., 2023). According to the PAST model, people experience ambivalence more often when people just change their attitudes because they are more likely to fail to retrieve this tag; in comparison, people who have maintained their attitudes for a while have rejected the past attitude more often and thus more automatically retrieve the false tag (Petty et al., 2006).

2. Method

The sample consisted of 1028 participants recruited via Prolific ( It included 514 omnivores (333 females, 171 males, 10 non-binary, Mage = 34.45, age range = 18–72) and 514 vegetarians (414 females, 86 males, 14 non-binary, Mage = 33.09, age range = 18–71). Participants completed a variety of questionnaires regarding psychological constructs related to meat consumption. This sample size was chosen to accommodate the requirements for network analyses for the development of the MAQ (see Buttlar et al., 2023).

Stages of Change. We adapted the methodology from Armitage and Arden (2007) and Klöckner (2017) to assess the stages of change. Participants were asked to select one of the following statements that most applied to them: “I currently do not eat a meat-free diet and I am not thinking about it.” (Pre-Contemplation); “I currently do not eat a meat-free diet but I think about it.” (Contemplation); “I currently intend to eat a meat-free diet but do not do so right now.” (Preparation); “I currently eat a meat-free diet but I have only begun to do so.” (Action); “I currently eat a meat-free diet and I have maintained it for a while.” (Maintenance). This way, we collected data from 222 participants in the Pre-Contemplation stage, 203 participants in the Contemplation stage, 64 participants in the Preparation stage, 20 participants in the Action stage, and 519 participants in the Maintenance stage.

Meat Ambivalence Questionnaire (MAQ). The MAQ comprises 25 items assessing ambivalence in five domains in omnivores and veg*ans (Buttlar et al., 2023). These domains entail ambivalence triggered by associations regarding animal welfare, sociability, sustainability, health, and sensory aspects of eating meat. This allowed us to assess the meat-related ambivalence rather generally via the Big MAQ (which comprises all 25 items), the Mini MAQ (which comprises five general items, i.e., one from each domain), and for all five sub-scales. Internal consistencies for the Big MAQ and its subscales were good to great for vegetarians and omnivores (all ω = 0.83; except for the socially-based subscale in vegetarians: ω = 0.78; for a detailed overview, see Buttlar et al., 2023; Study 2).

General Positive and Negative Associations. We assessed participants’ positive and negative associations towards meat with two separate items. Positive and negative evaluations are strongly related unless they are assessed by split semantic differential scales (Kaplan, 1972). These items were worded “Considering only the positive[/negative] aspects of meat consumption, while ignoring the negative[/positive] aspects, how positive[/negative] are your thoughts and/or feelings regarding meat consumption?”. Participants responded on separate 7-point scales by moving a slider from 1 (not at all positive[/negative]) to 7 (extremely positive[negative]).

Specific Positive and Negative Associations. We assessed the Motivations to Eat Meat Inventory (Hopwood et al., 2021) to measure the most common positive associations by which people explain their motivation to eat meat. These explanations include that meat consumption is necessary, normal, natural, and nice (tasty). We also assessed the Vegetarian Eating Motives Inventory (Hopwood et al., 2020) to measure the most common negative associations towards meat by which people explain why they eschew meat. These include health, environmental, and animal welfare motivations reasons.

Meat Consumption. To assess meat consumption, we used three items presented in randomized order asking for different kinds of meat (“On average, how often do you eat red meat [poultry/seafood] including side dishes and snacks? Please select one option and enter a number. (If you do not consume any red meat [poultry/seafood], select “year” and enter 0)”; (adapted from Pauer et al., 2022). Participants could then either indicate the average frequency per day, week, month, or year with which they consumed each type of meat. Independent of the type of answer, we calculated the number of servings of meat that people eat each type of meat per year. Then, we computed the sum of the total meat consumption per year across all categories.

Additional Measures. The above-mentioned variables refer to the measures needed to test our hypotheses, but the data set comprises additional variables. These variables included job status, education, political orientation, dietary centrality, dietary social support, speciesism, moral emotions (disgust, anger, guilt), moralization, information seeking, and interest in signing a petition for more plant-based food in cafeterias. It also contained a three-item measure of general felt ambivalence towards meat that did not yield good reliability in veg*ans (Buttlar et al., 2023). A detailed overview of all assessed variables can be found on the OSF (

What do they do with these subjective, qualitative surveys? The apply:


Table 1. Regression coefficients from SEMs predicting the MAQ scales by stages of dietary change.

MAQ scale Stages of change 2 vs 1 Stages of change 3 vs 2 Stages of change 4 vs 3 Stages of change 5 vs 4 Polynomial Contrasts (ps < .05)
β p β p β p β p Empty Cell
Mini MAQ .47 [.41; .53] <.001 .05 [-.02; .11] .153 −.10 [-.17; −.04] .003 −.55 [-.75; −.35] <.001 quadratic, linear, cubic
Big MAQ .46 [.41; .52] <.001 .05 [-.02; .11] .152 −.077 [-.14; −.01] .018 −.638 [-.83; −.45] <.001 quadratic, linear
Animal .36 [.30; .41] <.001 .004 [-.05; .06] .901 −.06 [-.12; .01] .070 −.47 [-.68; −.27] <.001 quadratic, linear
Socially .41 [.34; .48] <.001 .08 [.005; .15] .034 −.08 [-.16; .002] .054 −.519 [-.78; −.26] <.001 quadratic, linear
Sustainability .44 [.38; .49] <.001 −.001 [-.06; .06] .963 −.05 [-.12; .02] .156 −.63 [-.70; −.56] <.001 quadratic, linear
Health .37 [.31; .44] <.001 .04 [-.03; .11] .291 −.07 [-.14; −.001] .044 −.49 [-.69; −.29] <.001 quadratic, linear
Sensory .39 [.32; .46] <.001 .10 [.02; .17] .015 −.08 [-.16; −.002] .041 −.60 [-.83; −.37] <.001 quadratic, linear

Note. Beta values denote changes in the factor scores of the respective MAQ scale. Significant trends for manifest polynomial contrast analyses are reported in the last column in the order of magnitude of the estimate (i.e., stronger trends are reported first). All SEMs reached adequate model fit indices (CFI >0.95; RMSEA <0.06; SRMR <0.08; see also Appendix E for details).

The real motivation for this study, to figure out how to GET PEOPLE TO STOP EATING MEAT, becomes clear in this chart below. Where progress is denoted by moving from Omnivore to Veg*an.

Clearly revealing the authors’ clear view that positive beliefs about meat eating are inherently false.

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