A recent study published in Appetite has shed light on the relationship between personality traits and dietary choices, uncovering intriguing connections that may help us better understand why some people choose to follow specific diets. Researchers examined the eating habits of individuals, categorizing them into three groups: those who consume animal products (omnivores), those who avoid meat but still consume other animal products (vegetarians), and those who abstain from all animal products (vegans).
Prior research has shown that the prevalence of vegetarian and vegan diets has been on the rise in Western societies. This surge in popularity has sparked curiosity about what motivates people to adopt these dietary preferences. Since personality traits have been known to influence various aspects of life, including lifestyle choices, the researchers aimed to investigate whether specific personality traits were associated with different dietary preferences.
“We are generally interested in the factors that motivate vegetarian and vegan diets because of their potential to have positive impacts on sustainability, animal rights, reducing the risks of zoonotic disease, and public health,” said study author Christopher J. Hopwood, a professor of personality psychology at the University of Zurich
“There have been a number of papers on personality and these diets recently but this literature had not been summarized. Personality is especially interesting because it has implications for a wide range of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, and thus can help organize the broader literature on psychological predictors of vegetarian and vegan diets.”
To delve into this intriguing question, the research team conducted a meta-analysis, a technique that combines and analyzes data from multiple previous studies to draw more precise conclusions. They combed through databases such as PsycINFO, Scopus, and Web of Science Core Collection. The aim was to identify studies that examined traits such as Openness, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, Extraversion, and Conscientiousness in relation to dietary habits. These traits fall under the well-known Big Five personality model.
Openness reflects curiosity, creativity, and willingness to embrace new experiences. Conscientiousness involves traits like organization, dependability, and self-discipline. Extraversion relates to sociability, assertiveness, and the preference for social interaction. Agreeableness encompasses attributes like kindness, cooperation, and empathy. Neuroticism relates to emotional stability, anxiety, and susceptibility to negative emotions.
After a meticulous selection process, the researchers included a total of nine studies for the analysis that focused on the distinctions between vegetarians and omnivores, while eight studies were included to explore the differences between vegetarians and vegans. These studies collectively involved 69,576 individuals from various countries, including Germany, the United States, New Zealand, and others.
The researchers found that individuals who identified as vegetarians or vegans scored higher in the personality traits of Openness and Agreeableness compared to omnivores. Among vegetarians and vegans, the only significant personality trait difference was related to Openness, with vegans scoring higher than vegetarians.
“People from Western cultures who are more open to experience are more likely to be vegetarian than omnivorous and more likely to be vegan than vegetarian, whereas people who are more agreeable are more likely to be vegetarian but this trait does not distinguish vegetarians and vegans,” Hopwood told PsyPost.
Interestingly, the study did not find consistent associations between other personality traits (Neuroticism, Extraversion, and Conscientiousness) and dietary choices, suggesting that Openness and Agreeableness were the key personality traits linked to vegetarian and vegan diets.
“We expected people who are more neurotic to also be more likely to be vegetarian but did not find that,” Hopwood said.
But the study, like all research, includes some caveats.
“These data come from Western samples, used questionnaire measures of both personality and diet, used one particular model of personality traits, and cannot reveal causal mechanisms linking diet and personality,” Hopwood explained. “Third variable explanations are possible; for instance, openness to experience is related to being on the political left and this may explain why it is related to vegan diet; agreeableness tends to be higher in women and this may explain why it is related to vegetarian diet.”
The study, “Meta-analysis of personality trait differences between omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans“, was authored by Marina E. Reist, Wiebke Bleidorn, Taciano L. Milfont, and Christopher J. Hopwood.