Why so defensive? Negative affect and gender differences in defensiveness toward plant-based diets

Kim Hinrichs, John Hoeks, Lúcia Campos, David Guedes, Cristina Godinho, Marta Matos, João Graça*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Evidence consistently shows that men (compared to women) tend to be more attached to meat consumption, less willing to follow plant-based diets, and overall more likely to express defensiveness toward plant-based eating. This study expands knowledge on the meat-masculinity link, by examining whether negative affect toward plant-based eating helps explain why these gender differences occur. Young consumers (N = 1130, 40.4% male, aged 20–35 years, USA) watched a video message promoting plant-based diets and completed a survey with three relevant expressions of defensiveness toward plant-based eating, namely threat construal, psychological reactance, and moral disengagement. Exposure to the messages did not impact gender differences in defensiveness compared to a control condition. Nonetheless, male consumers scored higher than female consumers in all measures of defensiveness (irrespective of experimental manipulation), with negative affect toward plant-based eating partly or fully mediating the associations between gender and defensiveness. Overall, these findings suggest that: (a) male defensiveness toward plant-based eating may be partly explained by negative affect, which is linked to a greater tendency to perceive reduced meat consumption as a threat and a limitation to one's freedom, and an increased propensity to deploy moral disengagement strategies such as pro-meat rationalizations; but (b) exposure to communication products promoting plant-based diets does not necessarily heighten male defensiveness toward plant-based eating (i.e., this study found no evidence of a “boomerang effect”). Future research on the topic could test whether affect-focused strategies may help decrease defensiveness to plant-based eating.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104662
Number of pages5
JournalFood Quality and Preference
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • Affect
  • Gender differences
  • Meat consumption
  • Plant-based diets
  • Reactance


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