A recent study published in Appetite has shed light on the relationship between personality traits and dietary choices, revealing intriguing connections that can help us better understand why some people choose to follow specific diets. The researchers looked at the eating habits of individuals and classified 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).
Previous research has shown that the prevalence of vegetarian and vegan diets is increasing in Western societies. This rise in popularity has sparked curiosity about what motivates people to adopt these dietary preferences. As personality traits are known to influence various aspects of life, including lifestyle choices, researchers sought to determine whether specific personality traits were associated with different food preferences.
“We are generally interested in the factors that drive vegetarian and vegan diets because of their potential to positively impact sustainability, animal rights, zoonotic disease risk reduction and public health,” said the study author Christopher J. Hopwood, professor. in personality psychology at the University of Zurich
“There have been a number of articles recently on personality and these diets, but this literature had not been summarized. Personality is of particular interest because it has implications for a wide range of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, and thus may help organize the broader literature on psychological predictors of vegetarian and vegan diets.
To explore this intriguing question further, the research team conducted a meta-analysis, a technique that combines and analyzes data from multiple previous studies to draw more precise conclusions. They searched databases such as PsycINFO, Scopus and Web of Science Core Collection. The aim was to identify studies examining traits such as openness, agreeableness, neuroticism, extraversion and conscientiousness in relation to eating habits. These traits fall under the well-known Big Five personality model.
Openness reflects curiosity, creativity, and a willingness to accept new experiences. Conscientiousness involves traits such as organization, reliability, and self-discipline. Extroversion concerns sociability, assertiveness, and preference for social interaction. Agreeableness encompasses attributes such as kindness, cooperation, and empathy. Neuroticism is linked to emotional stability, anxiety, and susceptibility to negative emotions.
After a meticulous selection process, the researchers included for analysis a total of nine studies focused on distinctions between vegetarians and omnivores, while eight studies were included to explore differences between vegetarians and vegans. These studies collectively included 69,576 people from various countries, including Germany, the United States, New Zealand and others.
Researchers found that individuals who identified as vegetarian or vegan scored higher in the personality traits of openness and agreeableness compared to omnivores. Among vegetarians and vegans, the only significant difference in personality traits was related to open-mindedness, with vegans scoring higher than vegetarians.
“People from Western cultures who are more open to experience are more likely to be vegetarians than omnivores and more likely to be vegans than vegetarians, while people who are more agreeable are more likely to be vegetarians, 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 food choices, suggesting that openness and agreeableness were the main personality traits related to vegetarian and vegan diets.
“We expected that people who were more neurotic would also be more likely to be vegetarian, but we didn’t find that,” Hopwood said.
But the study, like all research, comes with some caveats.
“These data come from Western samples, used questionnaire measures of personality and diet, used a particular model of personality traits, and cannot reveal causal mechanisms linking diet and personality,” Hopwood explained. “Third variable explanations are possible; for example, openness to experience is linked to being on the political left, which may explain why it is linked to the vegan diet; agreeableness tends to be higher in women and this may explain why it is linked to the 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.