Meat! Can Manhood Stomach the Punch of the Vegetarian Alternative?

A team of consumer researchers from the University of Hawaii is studying the effects of masculinity on meat consumption. In an effort to expand their findings, the team is turning to crowdfunding platform Experiment to support their research.

The experiment is designed to answer the questions: 1) Is there scientific support for the pervasive myth that red meat affords masculinity to consumers? 2) Would masculinity suffer psychologically and physiologically from the consumption of vegetarian alternatives? 3) Why do masculine persons highly value meat dishes, and which biological and psychological factors/processes motivate their preferences?

Since the Stone Age, the incorporation of meat has served both as a symbol and as a signal for masculinity. Today, meat still has the same meaning. Many men would gladly embrace the health risks associated with red meat rather than taking the slightest risk of being associated with the feminine attributes of a vegetarian diet. A trivial incident that deviates from the masculine norm, such as a woman holding open the door for a man to walk through, can trigger male anxiety. Meat consumption is often used to psychologically defend the ego against omnipresent threats to coveted masculine status.

The strongly pronounced gender-food linkage presents a dilemma for traditionally masculine persons when it comes to deciding what to eat. Consistently they choose the steak over the vegetarian alternative. Helping us to complete the picture of the psychological and physiological factors involved in this process will hopefully influence marketing messages about masculinity and meat consumption in socially beneficial ways.

Attila Pohlmann, PhD, International Management

It is well documented that many chronic and fatal diseases can be prevented by reducing the consumption of red meat and processed meats. Thus, this experiment has implications for marketers that are seeking to position meatless products to their consumers as well as for general public health.

Pohlmann’s team has already studied the psychological mechanisms underlying this phenomenon. With additional funding, the team intends to conduct saliva testing to expand on their initial findings using hormonal biomarkers, such as testosterone and cortisol.

In a previous experiment the researchers found that after consumers experience a threat to their masculinity, the availability of a meat pizza lowered their anxiety back to the level of an unthreatened control group. A vegetarian alternative presented to the threatened group did not produce the same anxiety-alleviating effect. The researchers hypothesize this effect is due to the masculinity-symbolizing power of meat, but want to conduct further research to partial out the psychological and physiological effects of meat consumption on masculinity. 

With men being their primary target, many marketing messages promote meat consumption by exploiting masculine anxieties and fortifying an alleged natural link between meat consumption and manliness.

While it is a staple method in medical and clinical research, salivary analysis has only become practical and affordable to social scientists in recent years.

In using Experiment to help raise the funds, Pohlmann and his colleagues are sharing progress reports in real-time. In return for backing the project, donors will also be recognized when the results are published in publicly accessible outlets. If fully funded, the project’s findings would have implications for psychology, food marketing, as well as studies in nutrition.

The project has 25 days remaining to meet its initial funding target of $ 3,000. So far, 43 backers have contributed to help reach its goal. Contributions beyond the initial goal will help to make the findings stronger by increasing sample size and adding experimental conditions. The platform, Experiment, recently surpassed $1,500,000 in total funding raised. Scientists using the platform have been featured in The Economist, Forbes, Nature, and The New York Times.

Questions can be posted via twitter @attilapohlmann or in the discussion section on

About Experiment

Experiment is an online platform for discovering, funding, and sharing science.