The Playing Field

Sport and culture through the lens of science

This Is Your Brain On Slaughter

The Hidden Cost of Killing Animals

Recently, University of Windsor professor of criminology Amy Fitzgerald made headlines when she discovered a direct link between slaughterhouses and violent crime. It seems that wherever and whenever abattoirs open, local crime rates go up-especially the rates of violent crimes.

Of course, scientists have been hip to this general idea since Upton Sinclair first pointed it out in "The Jungle," though Fitzgerald went a step farther than most researchers in proving her thesis. Usually, the link between crime and the animal-killing industry is blamed on the high number of immigrant workers who make up the typical slaughterhouse work force, but when Fitzgerald specifically controlled this factor the results were  the same.

The basic psychological thinking on this one is that working in a slaughterhouse desensitizes humans to violence and killing. Well, considering that we now know that violent media (video games, TV, movies etc.) increases aggressive behavior and decreases empathetic behavior, this shouldn't come as a great surprise. Being around any sort of violence makes one comfortable with violence as a way of resolving problems. Once that happens the result can only be more violence.

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But there's a lot of other interesting research showing this issue goes much deeper than just general desensitization. In my last blog, I wrote about the upstart field of ecopsychology. The core idea underlying ecopsychology is that there are direct links between the natural world and the human mind. Our brains evolved with animals and in nature and they evolved at a time when we had a very egalitarian relationship with animals and nature. Start messing with those relationships and there are bound to be consequences.

Ecopsychologists have spent the past decade or so identifying those consequences. We now know of "nature deficit disorder." We know that spending twenty minutes a day in nature is more effective at treating ADHD than any drug currently on the market and just spending five minutes in nature is enough to boost self-esteem. We also know of links between incidents of bad weather and increases in mental illness. And, most critically, we know that animal companionship provides significant health and psychological benefits. Hell, we know that petting a dog for about 15 minutes significantly raises serotonin levels in the brain while drugs like Prozac take up to a month to produce this same effect.

So if petting a dog or a cat can increase mental well-being, doesn't it just make sense that the opposite—slaughtering an animal in an assembly line process—would have to produce some really anti-social effects.



Steven Kotler is an author and journalist. His most recent works include: Abundance, A Small Furry Prayer  and West of Jesus.


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