The insight comes from McGill University undergraduate Frank Kachanoff. He wondered if the sight of food would incite men’s defensive desires, much like a dog aggressively protecting its food bowl, he explained in a press release:
“I was inspired by research on priming and aggression, that has shown that just looking at an object which is learned to be associated with aggression, such as a gun, can make someone more likely to behave aggressively. I wanted to know if we might respond aggressively to certain stimuli in our environment not because of learned associations, but because of an innate predisposition. I wanted to know if just looking at the meat would suffice to provoke an aggressive behavior.”
To determine aggression, the experimenters put a man in a room and give him the ability to punish a person who was sorting photograghs. In one iteration of the test the pictures showed neutral objects, and in the other they showed cooked meat dishes. The amount of painful sound the participant decided to inflict on a bad picture sorter for his mistakes was used as a guide to the level of aggression the participant was feeling.
Kachanoff presented his work at an undergraduate research symposium at McGill. He found that the men who watched the sorter work with pictures of meat inflicted less painful punishment than the men watching the neutral pictures, which makes some sense in hindsight, Kachanoff explained in a press release:
“We used imagery of meat that was ready to eat. In terms of behaviour, with the benefit of hindsight, it would make sense that our ancestors would be calm, as they would be surrounded by friends and family at meal time,” Kachanoff explained. “I would like to run this experiment again, using hunting images. Perhaps Thanksgiving next year will be a great opportunity for a do-over!”
With all such evolutionary explanations for modern behavior, this should probably be taken with a few grains of salt (just like a tasty steak should be). But it would be interesting to see if this phenomenon would carry over into any other food images, and if meat had the same effect on females.
Discoblog: How to Cook Steak in Your Beer Cooler
Discoblog: National Pork Board to Unicorn Meat Purveyor: Lay Off Our Slogan
80beats: Red Meat Acts as Trojan Horse for Toxic Attack by E. Coli
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Saucy study reveals a gene that affects aggression after provocation
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Human ancestors carved meat with stone tools almost a million years earlier than expected