Guilty Pleasures

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Human empathy can extend to inanimate things, according to a new study.

Researcher Roland Schroll found that people are less willing to eat food that has human-like features, Cosmos Magazine reported.

Anthropomorphism – attributing human characteristics to objects or other living things – is a common marketing tool for food products: For example, M&Ms, Kool-Aid Man and gingerbread men.

But Schroll noticed that while consumers like to buy these products, they are hesitant to munch on them. However, that was not the case with “cold-hearted” people who lack empathy or remorse when devouring a smiling gingerbread man.

In a new paper, he looked at five studies testing people’s response to food depicted as human.

Three studies that focused on advertising anthropomorphized apples and regular ones showed that participants reported a lower desire to eat a fruit with human features. “Cold-hearted” people, on the other hand, didn’t care.

He observed the same results when consumers were offered M&Ms customized with and without human facial features.

But the author noticed a peculiar trend with gingerbread men: Consumers had no problem buying them but when given the option to eat either a gingerbread man or a gingerbread tree, they would pick the latter.

“By humanizing a food product, we grant it the capacity to feel (pain),” said Schroll. “Consequently, consumers don’t like to eat such a product because eating it seems immoral.”

The findings suggest that companies may have to rethink their marketing strategies.

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