Research Challenges the Emotionality of Anti-Speciesist Thought

A study in the Journal of Neuroscience has found that those who are sensitive to fairness and justice are not reacting only to emotions. Rather, brain scans indicate that they are thinking rationally and logically. The experimenters showed “sensitive” people images of a homeless person being abused. Scans demonstrated that it was the rational parts of their brains that reacted.  The common dismissal of activists as overly emotional or angry is misinformed. Social justice is also a logical matter.

There are important implications for activism on behalf of other animals.  First, prevailing social science emphasizes the emotiveness of anti-speciesism. However, this neuroscience research would suggest that many activists are opposed to and upset by speciesism as a matter of rational conclusion, not emotional reaction.

Second, emotionality is also considered a distinctly feminine quality, but the rational response registered by participants aligns with stereotypes of masculine activism. Rationally speaking, speciesism just does not make sense. However, dismissing anti-speciesism as an emotional response could be effective in deferring any uncomfortable feelings that nonvegans and speciesists experience when confronted with inequality. This tactic can be effective in a sexist culture where all things feminine are devalued.

Lastly, this study speaks to tactical diversity. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement relies heavily on moral shocks to trigger emotional reactions. But this approach will not work for everyone. Some will be motivated by emotional appeals, while others are triggered by logical ones.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of vegan research in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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