FRIDAY, Nov. 12, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- That feeling of goodwill when family and friends gather for the Thanksgiving meal may be due to the fact that the sight of meat on the table calms people, a new study suggests.
The researchers in the psychology department at McGill University in Montreal were surprised by their finding. They had expected that seeing meat would make people more aggressive.
"I was inspired by research on priming and aggression, that has shown that just looking at an object which is learned to be associated with aggression, such as a gun, can make someone more likely to behave aggressively," study author Frank Kachanoff said in a McGill news release.
"I wanted to know if we might respond aggressively to certain stimuli in our environment not because of learned associations, but because of an innate predisposition. I wanted to know if just looking at the meat would suffice to provoke an aggressive behavior," he explained.
Kachanoff thought meat would trigger aggression in people because he believed this type of behavior would have helped our primate ancestors survive.
The study included 82 males who sorted sets of photos while listening to a person read a script. Some sets of photos were of ready-to-eat meat while others had neutral imagery. Every time the script reader made an error, the participants could use various levels of sound to inflict punishment.
Contrary to what the researchers expected, the participants who sorted photos of meat were calm.
"In terms of behavior, with the benefit of hindsight, it would make sense that our ancestors would be calm, as they would be surrounded by friends and family at meal time," Kachanoff said. "I would like to run this experiment again, using hunting images. Perhaps Thanksgiving next year will be a great opportunity for a do-over!"
The study was presented at a recent science symposium at McGill University.
A professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis has studied early man and sociality.