Behavioral Immune Trade-Offs: Interpersonal Value Relaxes Social Pathogen Avoidance

Joshua M. Tybur*, Debra Lieberman, Lei Fan, Tom R. Kupfer, Reinout E. de Vries

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Behavioral-immune-system research has illuminated how people detect and avoid signs of infectious disease. But how do we regulate exposure to pathogens that produce no symptoms in their hosts? This research tested the proposition that estimates of interpersonal value are used for this task. The results of three studies (N = 1,694), each conducted using U.S. samples, are consistent with this proposition: People are less averse to engaging in infection-risky acts not only with friends relative to foes but also with honest and agreeable strangers relative to dishonest and disagreeable ones. Further, a continuous measure of how much a person values a target covaries with comfort with infection-risky acts with that target, even within relationship categories. Findings indicate that social prophylactic motivations arise not only from cues to infectiousness but also from interpersonal value. Consequently, pathogen transmission within social networks might be exacerbated by relaxed contamination aversions with highly valued social partners.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1211-1221
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number10
Early online date17 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


FundersFunder number
Horizon 2020 Framework Programme680002
H2020 European Research CouncilStG-2015 680002-HBIS


    • behavioral immune system
    • disgust
    • evolutionary psychology
    • infectious disease
    • open data
    • open materials
    • preregistered
    • welfare trade-offs


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