For anyone who’s had the opportunity to meet cows, pigs, and birds in an up close and personal setting, like a sanctuary, it’s an incredible experience. Much like the cats and dogs in our homes, these animals are very social and playful, and they have individual personalities. It can be a life-changing experience. So can watching an undercover video filmed inside a factory farm or slaughterhouse. And while such information has compelled millions of Americans to change our dietary choices by leaving animals off our plates, would more people be willing to alter their behavior if they could experience what life is truly like for farmed animals?
That’s exactly what researchers at Stanford University are trying to find out.
Using virtual reality simulation, students experience what it feels like to be a cow heading to the slaughter line. As described in detail by Scientific American:
“[Participants] donned a virtual reality helmet and walked on hands and feet while in a virtual mirror they saw themselves as bovine. As the animal was jabbed with an electrical prod, a lab worker poked a volunteer’s side with a sticklike device. The ground shook to simulate the prod’s vibrations. The cow at the end was led toward a slaughterhouse.”
After the experience, participants recorded what they ate for the next week. The goal of the project, from the Stanford research team’s perspective, is too see how much this experience might change the students’ behaviors — did they eat less meat? — as a way to benefit of the environment. Eating less meat is certainly better for animals as well, so the insight gained here could also prove beneficial for animal protection.
The results have not yet been analyzed, but one participant reported to ClimateWire: “I truly felt like I was going to the slaughter house towards the end and I felt sad that I (as a cow) was going to die.”
Want to know how it feels for yourself? While you might not have access to Stanford’s lab, thanks to the internet, you can go behind the bars to see what life is like for a female pig nearly immobilized inside a gestation crate — virtually, of course. Try it out for yourself.