Pathogen disgust sensitivity: More sensitive cue detection or stronger cue avoidance?

Florian van Leeuwen, Bastian Jaeger

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Humans differ in their tendency to experience disgust and avoid contact with potential sources of pathogens. Pathogen disgust sensitivity has been used to explain a wide range of social phenomena, such as prejudice, conformity, and trust. Yet, its exact role in the motivational system that regulates avoidance of pathogens, the so-called behavioral immune system, remains unclear. Here, we test how individual differences in pathogen disgust sensitivity relates to the information processing structure underlying pathogen avoidance. Participants (n = 998) rated the perceived health of individuals with or without facial blemishes and indicated how comfortable they would feel about having physical contact with them. Participants with high disgust sensitivity viewed facial blemishes as more indicative of poor health. Moreover, for participants with high disgust sensitivity, perceived health was a stronger determinant of comfort with physical contact. These findings suggest that increased pathogen disgust sensitivity captures tendencies to more readily interpret stimuli as a pathogen threat and be more strongly guided by estimated infection risk when deciding who should be approached or avoided. This supports the notion that pathogen disgust sensitivity is a summary of investment in pathogen avoidance, rather than just an increased sensitivity to pathogen cues.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


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