“Think more like six year olds!” – Psychologist Luke McGuire – Sentientism Ep:170

Find our Sentientist Conversation on the Sentientism YouTube and on the Sentientism Podcast.

Luke⁠ is a lecturer working in the Department of Psychology at the University of Exeter. His research examines social and moral development between childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. Between 2017 and 2020 he worked as a postdoctoral research fellow on the Wellcome Trust, ESRC and NSF funded “STEM Teens” project. This project examined the role of youth educators in informal science learning sites, both by longitudinally following youth educators and by quasi-experimentally examining their role in these sites.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” In addition to the YouTube video above the audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here on all the other platforms.

We discuss:

00:00 Welcome

– Previous guests ⁠Kristof Dhont (ep:47)⁠, ⁠Matti Wilks (ep:45)⁠

– PHAIR Society conference https://phairsociety.org/

01:53 Luke Intro

– Social & moral developmental #psychology

– Human prejudice, discrimination – fairness, co-operation, resource allocation

– PHAIR symposium on “The Meat Paradox” “That was a big inspirational moment for me”

⁠Tania Lombrozo ep:168⁠

04:13 What’s Real?

– “The beauty of this podcast is forcing people to wrestle with their own socialisation”

– Mum from Northern Ireland & dad from Scotland “culturally religious backgrounds”

– Going to church & “learning about the more scientific worldview alongside that… I wrestled with the conflict of those two things when I was younger”

– Rural childhood “being face to face with the natural world”

– “I sort of decided for myself when I was about 11 or 12 years old that the religious side of it was not really for me”

– “My parents were so respectful of whatever we wanted to do as kids”

– #punk and #metal

– “There’s lots of people who come from sub-cultures into this animal rights movement… it’s those sub-cultural spaces where these more radical ideas are first laid down and then expand out into the broader world”

⁠Nico Delon ep 159⁠

– @moby ‘s Punk Rock Vegan Movie

– “I haven’t gone as far as the full animal rights sleeve tattoo yet but there’s still time”

– Peer influence “your parents might act as your early socialisers but a lot of what happens from when you’re 6-7 years and older is down to the circles you’re moving with in outside the home”

– A vegetarian friend at 13

– “If you work in science for long enough you stop believing that anything can be proven 100%… do not use the word ‘proof’… you cannot use that word.”

– “I’m with you – the more naturalistic view”

– Nature-facing spiritual movements “pagans are on the rise again… people are turning back to nature”

– Epistemological issues: #QAnon #antivaxx #flatearth #BigLie #trump #astrology #homeopathy #covid19 …

– “There could be a rational computational model for how we interact with the world but that’s just not how it works – the social world is impossibly complicated and the human brain is not very well set up to understand… so we have to use these more simple heuristics”

– “We see the importance of group membership time and time again – that identity aspect”

– #ReplicationCrisis

– “We have to use these simple decision-making processes because everything is too complicated”

– “We can dream of being the rational thinker but we’re never going to get there”

– #misinformation , #disinformation , #conspiracy

– Genuine vs. performative belief?

– “What does it mean to really believe something?”

– “We should take people at their word… you go and talk to teenagers and say ‘why do you believe this’ and they give you answers”

– “Younger people definitely do not say what you want to hear” 🙂

19:57 What Matters?

– “Maybe we do implicitly all agree on a set of these principles”

– “There’s a core ethic, a core morality, that people tend to agree upon”

– “Most people do not want to do harm to other living beings for no good reason”

– “I think if you ask the majority of people… ‘would you go over and punch a cow?’ they’re going to say ‘no – why would I do that?'”

– JW: “Andrew Tate might give a different answer but… it could just be performative – maybe he’s a nice guy underneath :)”

– “We don’t want to invite that part of the YouTube algorithm into your podcast”

– “There’s some kind of ‘no harm’ principle there”

– The evolution of co-operation

Frans de Waal episode

– Nihilism, #Ahimsa

– “A part of that world of DIY punk music is around helping people… no racism, no homophobia, no sexism”

– “Fairness and harm are the two things that come up time and time again if you ask young kids ‘what’s the right thing to do?’”

– “Try to be as fair as possible… and try not to cause harm… those are two good ones to live by”

– “I don’t think of children as being naïve”

– “I advocate for people to think more like six year olds”

– JW: As kids’ cognitive capabilities improve that’s offset by harmful social enculturations that weaken their epistemology and ethics

– “We do something pretty terrible to kids… we tell them one thing and show them something else… you should not harm your brother and sister but I’ll eat roast chicken”

– “It makes sense that kids will eventually say ‘you don’t really believe what you’re telling me… you’re showing me to be a member of the society we have built I should behave this way. The moral principles are fine but I’ve got to go the other way’”

31:06 Who Matters?

–  “The extension of no harm, justice, fairness does have an in-group component”

– “People are more likely to co-operate with people they share a group membership with”

– “I can see the meat paradox in action… from my teenage years I was aware of this as an issue… the path of least resistance was just to carry on… but by the time I was in university the dissonance was getting to levels that were harder to comprehend”

– “Embarrassingly enough I love The Smiths”

– “Eventually there was some kind of tipping point… I decided one Christmas… I’m just going to start from 1st January – be vegan – I’ve carried on since”

– “It’s a relief right?… I was experiencing cognitive dissonance and it was very unpleasant. Afterwards – everything slots much more neatly into place – you feel a sense of balance.”

– Supportive parents, plenty of animal rights friends…

– “A big part of the research in this area should be… how do you make this easier for people and show compassion for people for whom it’s not the easiest thing to do”

– Setting our moral consideration scope: Sentience vs. goals / agency

– “I like the Bentham ‘do they suffer?’”

– “How is somebody who has malicious intent going to potentially use this rule against you… somebody who is a fascist can say ‘I have greater agency than you… I have greater cognitive language abilities than you – you don’t deserve moral treatment’… the suffering one… I find it hard to imagine how that could be flipped”

– Links between intra-human and intra-species / speciesist discrimination: Social Dominance Orientation “Seems to go a good way towards explaining those types of prejudice”

– “History shows us that hierarchies are something that people love to build societies around”

– Organisational hierarchy (to help organise and co-operate) vs. value hierarchy (I am more important / valuable than you)

– Links between far-right / neo-fascist worldviews and animal agriculture / carnivore diets

– Dehumanisation “fascism revolves on using animal words to describe human groups it wants to destroy”

– The meat-masculinity nexus and gender. Jared Piazza and Vicky Simpson’s ongoing research work

– Animal agriculture and colonial land-hunger

– JW: “People on the far-right… seem to have a strong affinity with it [animal agriculture]… but when you look at people across the rest of the spectrum who might have more liberal views or progressive views – the flip side doesn’t seem to work… even though they score much lower on social dominance orientation and disagree with oppression and needless harm and arbitrary hierarchies”

– “This is an expanding moral circle issue. If we look back to the 1950s people would have scored low on a social dominance orientation measure relative to other people but still not extended moral consideration to black people in America or gay people all over the world. Who we care about has changed over time, will continue to change and that change is going to be bottom up and top down.”

– Bottom up: More radical sub-cultures. Top-down: legal changes to give others rights

– JW: “Having people like Andrew Tate and Jordan Peterson… vocally and aggressively 1) attacking vegans and people showing compassion for non-human animals as weak and embarrassing and not masculine and… 2) actively promoting carnivore diets and aggressive animal agriculture and exploitation – might actually help accelerate the social change in the mass of more decent humanity – because if that guy is supporting this thing! Maybe these guys are going to do more for the cause of veganism than vegans are”

– “It’s only because people are rattled by it… these principles of harm and fairness – being in conflict with, in these guys cases, their identity as super-masculine…”

01:01:00 How can we make a better world?

– JW: Most kids don’t want to believe stuff that’s made up. Most kids don’t want to harm other sentient beings

– “Young kids show some basic moral concern for non-human animals… but they have a disconnect between animals and food”

– Eric Hahn’s study with 4-7 year old kids: “Chicken nuggets to a chicken like apples to a tree”

– “These principles… they’re not changing across the lifespan. What’s changing is this awareness of social practices… these norms about the cultural value that food, especially meat, holds for us… turkey on thanksgiving”

– “You get that [empathic] connection first… the knowledge of the harm the thing that you don’t get given. We’re hiding a lot of information from kids perhaps because we have an ethical concern for them – we don’t want to upset them… That leads to the conflict later in life… around adolescence… then you get this cascade of all this categorisation and motivation and reasoning.”

– “Focus on that transition from childhood to adolescence”

– “I don’t think everyone is going to become a vegan even in my lifetime…” Utopia – Star Trek?

– “Price, taste and ease are the things that are actually going to convince people to change their diets… Eventually the animal welfare thing will become more important but it’s not right now for many people”

– “I would think about ways in schools to give people more opportunities to eat a more varied plant-based diet”

– “Ways to introduce these ideas of ethics in late childhood into adolescence… that’s going to lead to dissonance… at the same time you’ve got to give people opportunities to reduce that dissonance through having that food available.”

– “There’s no reason you couldn’t do that in secondary schools… teenagers are engaged in moral reasoning… they already do think about these things – we’re just doing them a disservice”

– Ethical bypassing vs. freeing people from complicity to re-commit to their latent ethics

– “What’s your ultimate goal – is it to reduce harm or is it to make the vegan identity more popular? To me it’s to reduce harm… in the short term at least”

– “People don’t have a lot of time to wrestle with ethics and epistemology”

– The Institute of Humane Education (see Zoe Weil and Mary Pat Champeau episodes)

– “We can’t force kids to do something their parents don’t want them to do… because for better or worse we give parents the right to raise their children how we see fit”

– “I do think the responsibility of all of us as adults is to show more respect for what children think and how they are interested in living their lives”

– “One of the most unpleasant things for me is there are kids out there who have this realisation and say ‘I don’t want to do this [consume animal products] any more’ yet have to carry on”

– “I personally don’t like being told what to do or think so I would extend that same privilege to anybody I meet. I would be happy to hear anybody’s argument on anything – I may not agree with you but I will do you the justice of hearing you out and I would appreciate being heard out in return.”

– Dialectics and discourse vs. polarisation

Andy Norman and Mark Solomon episodes. Street Epistemology

– JW: Compassion in our conversations “even for somebody you disagree with”

– Extrinsically forcing change doesn’t work. Intrinsic change is the only way “planting the seeds”

– Examining our own reasoning processes (under the intuition)

Follow Luke:



Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at Sentientism.info.

Join our “I’m a Sentientist” wall using this simple form.

Everyone, Sentientist or not, is welcome in our groups. The biggest so far is here on Facebook.

Thanks to Graham for the post-production and to Tarabella and Denise for helping to fund this episode via our Sentientism Patreon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.