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Derogating do-gooders [like vegetarians] is how I roll

Wednesday, November 2, 2011
posted by Rita Handrich

You would think we would admire do-gooders who are truly motivated by morals, values and beliefs. But you would be wrong. Recent research compares the attitudes of meat eaters to vegetarians. Meat eaters don’t really like vegetarians. We think they judge us. So we make fun of them.

Researchers decided to prove scientifically this common wisdom [that we derogate the do-gooder in anticipation of feeling judged]. They used two different experiments–in the first, they asked for definitions of vegetarianism [only meat-eaters were included in both of these studies], and then had participants assess what vegetarians would think about their diet prior to asking for descriptors of vegetarians. In the second, they had half of the participants first imagine how a vegetarian would judge the morality of meat-eaters and then generate descriptors. The other half in the second study generated descriptors first.

Participants who were primed to imagine judgment first, had more negative descriptors of the vegetarian. The range of descriptors used for vegetarians is wide. Sample descriptors categorized by the researchers paint a picture of how meat-eaters see vegetarians:

Positive descriptors: earthy, hippies, alternative, politically correct, liberal, religious, animal-lovers, kind, brave, sweet, thoughtful, healthy, female, white.

Negative descriptors: annoying, arrogant, conceited, sadistic, judgmental, posers, preachy, weird, bleeding hearts, PETA, crazy, strict, opinionated, sister.

Interestingly, while meat-eaters thought vegetarians were judgmental and saw the meat-eater as morally flawed, researchers found this belief was exaggerated. Vegetarians culled from the sample in the study did judge the meat-eater but not to the extent predicted by the meat-eaters.

Wow. This research says the carnivore juror anticipates moral reproach from the vegetarian and that anticipation of reproach results in demeaning or derogating the vegetarian as a defensive maneuver. When you really think about what this means, it’s pretty frightening. The adult version of the 3rd grade “I know you don’t like me but that’s because you’re stupid.”

We know that people judge based on race, age and disability, sexual orientationfacial disfiguration, and even religious beliefs or the lack of religious belief. We even know that we tend to automatically assign higher status to being white and lower status to being black. But having a client who is a vegetarian may be a liability with meat-eating jurors!

The issue of moral judgments and the mixed feelings people have about those who are morally superior is one that we have written about in the past.  Ultimately, everyone on the jury wants to feel that they are seen as being good.  So the “morally superior” person, in order to avoid the kind of pre-emptive judgmentalism that this study uncovered, is wise to be nice.  Be relatable.  Be sincere and self-effacing.  Express appreciation for people in their lives who are strikingly like the average juror.  In other words, even in their superiority, their challenge is to be relatable and ‘like us’.

Minson, JA, & Monin, B. (2011). Do-gooder derogation: Disparaging morally motivated minorities to defuse anticipated reproach. Social Psychological and Personality Science.

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