This study examines consumer indifference toward meat eating, focusing on two types of people: “1) consumers who do not care and, therefore, ignore the issue and 2) consumers who do care but strategically choose to ignore the issue.” According to the authors, “research often overestimates the number of indifferent consumers,” so we may be able to obtain new insights by focusing on these types of consumers. They begin by discussing cognitive dissonance and the fact that many people “love eating meat but do not like the idea that animals suffer and are killed for meat consumption, which is known as the ‘meat paradox.'” Strategic ignorance differs from cognitive dissonance in the sense that it resolves the internal conflict “by choosing to avoid information or thoughts related to animal welfare conditions, which cause the discomfort. Subsequently, the individual can enjoy a steak without having any concerns.”
The study involved more than 3,200 Dutch respondents recruited through an online research agency and separated into two groups: “Case Antibiotics” were selected to “identify an ‘egocentric conflict’ between the love for eating meat and (personal as well as public) health issues (i.e., antibiotics)”; the second group, “Case Chicken” were selected to “identify an ‘altruistic conflict’ between the love for eating meat and one’s attitude towards animals that suffer for producing inexpensive meat.” They identified four clusters in their results:
- “Struggling consumers” are those that have negative feelings toward meat consumption combined with “low scores on willingness to ignore and positive scores on perceived responsibility”
- “Coping consumers” are those that have low levels of negative emotions toward meat consumption, but also have a score low on willingness to ignore its negative effects and score high on perceived responsibility.
- “Indifferent consumers” are those that have low negative emotions toward meat consumption and high willingness to ignore its negative effects and may be the hardest to reach because they simply “do not care.” According to the researchers, people in this cluster “do not feel responsible, do not aim to learn about the issue, and do not experience high levels of cognitive dissonance.”
- Finally, the “strategically ignorant consumers” have “low amounts of negative emotions, low levels of cognitive dissonance, and score positive on the willingness to ignore (the negative effects of meat consumption).” These consumers, according to the research, understand that they and other meat consumers are responsible for the situation, but this type of consumer “strategically ignores information about the issue.”
For animal advocates, this study shows that the motivations for eating meat may be even more complex than thought. The types of messages or advocacy that effectively reach a “struggling” consumer are unlikely to be the same for reaching a “strategically ignorant” consumer. Understanding the difference may be an important distinction in advocacy efforts. The study of strategic ignorance is still in its infancy and this study would seem to be an important contribution to the nascent field.