Why do people vary in disgust?

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

People vary in the degree to which they experience disgust toward—and, consequently, avoid—cues to pathogens. Prodigious work has measured this variation and observed that it relates to, among other things, personality, psychopathological tendencies, and moral and political sentiments. Less work has sought to generate hypotheses aimed at explaining why this variation exists in the first place, and even less work has evaluated how well data support these hypotheses. In this paper, we present and review the evidence supporting three such proposals. First, researchers have suggested that variability reflects a general tendency to experience anxiety or emotional distress. Second, researchers have suggested that variability arises from parental modelling, with offspring calibrating their pathogen avoidance based on their parents’ reactions to pathogen cues. Third, researchers have suggested that individuals calibrate their disgust sensitivity to the parasite stress of the ecology in which they develop. We conclude that none of these hypotheses is supported by existing data, and we propose directions for future research aimed at better understanding this variation. This article is part of the Theo Murphy meeting issue ‘Evolution of pathogen and parasite avoidance behaviours’.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20170204
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Biological Sciences
Volume373
Issue number1751
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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