Do Vegans and Vegetarians Have More Empathy?

Scientific research suggests the answer is ‘yes’. When compared to omnivores, or those who eat both plant and animal products, functional MRI brain scans reveal a more powerful empathic response to both human and animal suffering in the minds of vegetarians and vegans. But, these findings may only be telling us part of the story.

The recent research using fMRI technology did, in fact, show that certain areas of the brain associated with empathy light up more in identified vegetarians and vegans and that the response to images of animal suffering is especially strong. What it does not reveal, however, is where this empathy comes from and if vegetarians and vegans are born with more of it, compared to their omnivorous counterparts.

When considering this chicken-or-the-egg (er, apple-or-the-seed?) scenario, we must remember that most vegans begin as omnivores. While there are some families who raise their children with vegan ethics, many of us came around to the philosophy years into adolescence or adulthood. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, author and animal rights advocate, calls the phenomenon “waking up” after a period of being asleep. She and others would argue that important components of our compassion are lying dormant as we grow up in a world which hides away the suffering of animals and tells us it’s normal to eat them. These parts of ourselves are revitalized when we are able and ready to “wake up” from what is, quite literally, being fed to us.

The mechanism of ignoring empathy-provoking experiences is a protective one. On a small scale, how many times have you purposefully scrolled past an article about some horrendous happening in the world? Our minds can only handle so much at a time. Our empathy has its limits largely because there is so much out there asking for a piece of it. When we are presented with information that requires us to tap into our empathy—and to even consider changing a part of our daily lives—we either rise to the occasion and process it or retreat from the uneasiness of cognitive dissonance, back into our comfort zones.

More research into empathic responses could be helpful in further understanding the mechanics of empathy, not just who appears to have more of it. So, do vegetarians and vegans actually have more empathy? Perhaps they are more plugged into the empathy reserve we all have inside of us. As John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, told Men’s Journal about his decision to follow a vegan philosophy after being presented with the horrors of the animal agriculture industry, “Remember The Matrix? Take the blue pill or the red pill? I didn’t want to go back to sleep.”

142 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus6 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

Marie W.
Marie W.8 months ago

Empathy is learned.

Anne P.
Anne P.8 months ago

Yes. People who don't eat or use animals for ethical reasons have more empathy.

And please, stop spreading the tired propaganda that Hitler was a vegetarian. This is a common fiction that omnivores trot out every time they feel threatened. if Hitler had been an ethical vegetarian, he would not have banned vegetarian organizations in Germany and the occupied countries; nor would he have failed to urge a meatless diet on the German people as a way of coping with Germany's World War II food shortage.

Read more here: http://www.vegsource.com/berry/hitler.html

Alexander Hay-Whitton

Good home thrust there, Gerald, with extra brownie points for using the good translation. :)

Gerald L.
Gerald L.8 months ago

For the enlightened vegangelicals way back in Genesis 3:21 For Adam also and for his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins and clothed them.
I do not think they passed up on some grilled rack of lamb. That would not be good stewardship.


Erlier in: Genesis 1:28 - And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.



Being Good Friday: Matthew 26:28 | View whole chapter | See verse in context
For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
Posted @ 3:08pm. 25MAR2016

Mary F.
Mary F.8 months ago

Isn't there enough divisiveness in the world without adding to it?

Alexander Hay-Whitton

We carnivores don't hate vegans. We do get irritated with i) dishonest claims that it's the way to feed the world (rot; population always expands faster than food supply); ii) insults towards our dietary choices (and, in some cases, towards the impressive art of the world's great chefs, few of whom wimp out about meat); iii) the absurd ignorance of how many thousands of deaths there are every minute in a square mile of nature, few of them merciful; and iv) the infliction of an imperfect diet and bigoted world view on the children they insist on breeding (every one of whose lives is a death sentence for a few million animals, like it or not).

Roberta G.
Roberta G.8 months ago

Nimue, you said a person happy with their dietary choices has no need to criticize others. I agree. Yet, that was included in a post critical of omnivores where you said..."if you love animals and you eat them, what does that make you?" Are you happy, Nimue? And yes, I am happy with my varied diet.

Rene White
Rene White8 months ago

Great article, thank you🌱💚

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola8 months ago

Thank you very much for sharing