Disgust sensitivity and opposition to immigration: Does contact avoidance or resistance to foreign norms explain the relationship?

Annika K. Karinen*, Catherine Molho, Tom R. Kupfer, Joshua M. Tybur

*Corresponding author for this work

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Past research suggests that pathogen-avoidance motives (e.g., disgust sensitivity) relate to greater opposition to immigration. Two accounts have been proposed to explain this relationship, one of which emphasizes proximally avoiding outgroups, and the other of which emphasizes adherence to traditional norms. According to the former, immigrants are perceived as being more infectious because they carry novel pathogens due to their foreign ecological origins. According to the latter, immigrants' foreign norms are perceived as posing a pathogen threat. This study aimed to disentangle these accounts. Participants (N = 975) were randomly assigned to read a description of an immigrant who had high or low contact with locals and high or low assimilation to local norms. The effect of disgust sensitivity on sentiments toward the immigrant (and immigrants like him) was compared across conditions. Results supported the traditional norms account: disgust sensitivity related to anti-immigrant sentiments when the immigrant was described as not assimilating to local norms, but not when he was described as assimilating. Contrary to the outgroup avoidance account, the relationship between disgust sensitivity and anti-immigrant sentiments did not vary across the high-contact and low-contact conditions. Results suggest that resistance to foreign norms, rather than avoidance of novel pathogens, better explains the relationship between pathogen avoidance and outgroup prejudice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103817
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Early online date22 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2019


  • Disgust sensitivity
  • Immigration
  • Outgroup avoidance
  • The behavioral immune system


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