Stanford’s Jeremy Bailenson is turning people into cows. Not in a Dr. Moreau sense, just as an investigation of whether empathizing with a cow makes you less likely to eat meat.
Bailenson’s latest experiment, ClimateWire reports, is a whacked-out version of Farmville, in which participants are made to feel like cows, even prodded like cattle. ClimateWire:
They donned a virtual reality helmet and walked on hands and feet while in a virtual mirror they saw themselves as bovine. As the animal was jabbed with an electrical prod, a lab worker poked a volunteer’s side with a sticklike device. The ground shook to simulate the prod’s vibrations. The cow at the end was led toward a slaughterhouse.
Afterwards, the participants recorded what they ate for a week. Bailenson hasn’t analyzed the data yet, so he’s not sure if this foray into the body of a bovine made participants feel queasy enough about beef to stop eating it. But his earlier virtual experiments have been effective — in one, which involved chopping down virtual trees to make toilet paper, participants started conserving paper towels to mop up spills before they even left the lab.
And Bailenson’s newest experiment certainly made subjects feel cow-like, ClimateWire reports:
“Once I got used to it I began to feel like I was the cow,” one person wrote. “I truly felt like I was going to the slaughter house towards the end and I felt sad that I (as a cow) was going to die. That last prod felt really sad.”
If Bailenson’s experiment shows that this system does decrease meat consumption, well, maybe lefty environmentalists should push for laws that require you to live as a cow for a few hours before buying meat.