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Is Meat Male? A Quantitative Multimethod Framework to Establish Metaphoric Relationships

Rozin, Paul, Julia Hormes, Myles Faith, and Brian Wansink (2012). Is Meat Male? A Quantitative Multimethod Framework to Establish Metaphoric Relationships. Journal of Consumer Research, 39 (3), 629-643. doi: 10.1086/664970

Metaphors and symbols are fundamental aspects of human cognition that can give insight into hidden mediating factors that underlie differences in basic product preference. Culturally and historically, meat has been associated with males because it was the male’s role to do the hunting, and has been said to promote manliness.

The central focus of this study was to explore if meat was a metaphor for maleness in Western cultures. To this end researchers tested the following hypotheses: 1) if maleness and meat are linked in thought; 2) if it is specifically mammal muscle meat that has male implications; 3) if feminized protein (milk, eggs, female organs) is psychologically linked to femaleness; 4) if food that is more distant from raw food will be more psychologically female; 5) if females will also prefer less involvement in meat to maintain their gender identity; and 6) if measures of the maleness of meat will be more pronounced in people with feminist affiliations.

A set of six experiments was conducted. In the first one, 296 participants completed an implicit association test (IAT) to see if there was a mental association between male and meat. In the second experiment, participants were asked to do a free association test with the word meat. 2,000 American college students as well as 170 adults from five European countries and the United States participated in study 2. In the third experiment, 596 college students were given a paragraph description in eight forms, identical except for the gender of the person described and the sentence discussing his or her favorite foods. They were asked to rate the person described in the paragraph based on 16 attributes. In the fourth experiment, 384 college students were asked to directly rate how male or female different foods were. In the fifth experiment, a preference study was conducted to determine if females would reject meat more frequently than males because meat symbolizes maleness. Participants were 6,023 adults from the six countries mentioned earlier, as well as 2,162 American college students. In the sixth experiment, languages that gender mark their nouns (ex: German, French) were examined to see if the male versus female gender designation could have some implications for perceived masculinity/femininity. A list of 20 world languages that gender words was obtained and analyzed.

Overall, results indicate that there is a psychological link between maleness and meat. In addition, the hypothesis that specifically mammal muscle has male implications was strongly supported. Our third hypothesis that feminized protein is psychologically linked to femaleness was disproved. However, the idea that processing food increases the psychological femaleness was supported. It was also found that women tend to have a lower preference for meat as a means to maintain their gender identity. Finally, individuals with feminist associations had slightly more extreme connections between meat and maleness. These results clearly indicate that the psychological link between maleness and meat is significant causing gender differences in food intake and attitudes which should be taken into account when marketing meat products.

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