This is your brain on cruelty
Vegans think differently–really. Last month, an Italian-based research team published a study indicating that vegans and vegetarians use different parts of the brain in response to images of human and animal suffering than do meat-eaters. The team used MRI scans to investigate whether vegans and vegetarians who specifically made food choices for ethical reasons “might show brain responses to conditions of suffering involving humans or animals different from omnivores.” Well, it turns out we do.
Using MRI, the brains of 60 adults (20 omnivores, 19 vegetarians, 21 vegans) were scanned while they were shown images of human and animal suffering, alternating with natural landscapes. Basically, when compared to omnivores, vegans and vegetarians used different parts of the brain associated with empathy and social cognition in response to images of suffering, especially of animals.
The article is titled “The Brain Functional Networks Associated to Human and Animal Suffering Differ among Omnivores, Vegetarians and Vegans”. Check it out for all the fascinating details.
It’s not exactly a gigantic Eureka! moment since most vegans are acutely aware that they respond differently to suffering than do most people. But when you wade through the alphabet soup of brain parts, this study is telling us that our ethical values change our neurological activity in such a way that makes it distinctive from meat-eaters. In other words: our world view and compassion for others, especially for animals, changes our brain chemistry. Wow.
I know that the human brain is about as well-understood as the universe and that MRI scans can be wildly imperfect (and extremely expensive). While I am also dubious that such conclusions are based on just 60 people, I am very impressed that a study investigating brain patterns of ethical vegans was even investigated. The paper also has an accurate and detailed description of the basic ethical principles of veganism. Surprisingly, the researchers really get it. I hope we’ll see more such studies of vegan humans in the future. We might really be a different species.