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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Disgust. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Disgust. Show all posts

Sunday, July 31, 2022

What is 'purity'? Conceptual murkiness in moral psychology

Gray, K., DiMaggio, N., Schein, C., 
& Kachanoff, F. (2021, February 3). 


Purity is an important topic in psychology. It has a long history in moral discourse, has helped catalyze paradigm shifts in moral psychology, and is thought to underlie political differences. But what exactly is “purity?” To answer this question, we review the history of purity and then systematically examine 158 psychology papers that define and operationalization (im)purity. In contrast to the many concepts defined by what they are, purity is often understood by what it isn’t—obvious dyadic harm. Because of this “contra”-harm understanding, definitions and operationalizations of purity are quite varied. Acts used to operationalize impurity include taking drugs, eating your sister’s scab, vandalizing a church, wearing unmatched clothes, buying music with sexually explicit lyrics, and having a messy house. This heterogeneity makes purity a “chimera”—an entity composed of various distinct elements. Our review reveals that the “contra-chimera” of purity has 9 different scientific understandings, and that most papers define purity differently from how they operationalize it. Although people clearly moralize diverse concerns—including those related to religion, sex, and food—such heterogeneity in conceptual definitions is problematic for theory development. Shifting definitions of purity provide “theoretical degrees of freedom” that make falsification extremely difficult. Doubts about the coherence and consistency of purity raise questions about key purity-related claims of modern moral psychology, including the nature of political differences and the cognitive foundations of moral judgment.


Purity is an ancient concept that has moved from historical religious rhetoric to modern moral psychology.  Many things have changed in this leap—Dr. Kellogg would never have imagined a scientific discipline catalyzed by loving incest—but purity still seems to be a heterogeneous concept with diverse understandings. This diversity makes purity an exciting topic to study, but our review suggests that purity lacks a common core, beyond involving acts that are less-than-obviously harmful.  Without a consistent and non-tautological understanding of purity, it is difficult to argue that purity is a unique and distinct construct, and it is impossible to argue for a mental mechanism dedicated to purity. It is clear, however, that purity is featured in moral rhetoric and can help shed light on cultural differences. Moving forward, we suggest that the field should unpack the richness of purity and individually explore its many understanding. When conducting this research, we should consider not only what purity isn’t, but what it really is.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The Affective Harm Account (AHA) of Moral Judgment: Reconciling Cognition and Affect, Dyadic Morality and Disgust, Harm and Purity

Kurt Gray, Jennifer K. MacCormack, et al.
In Press (2022)
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology


Moral psychology has long debated whether moral judgment is rooted in harm vs. affect. We reconcile this debate with the Affective Harm Account (AHA) of moral judgment. The AHA understands harm as an intuitive perception (i.e., perceived harm), and divides “affect” into two: embodied visceral arousal (i.e., gut feelings) and stimulus-directed affective appraisals (e.g., ratings of disgustingness). The AHA was tested in a randomized, double-blind pharmacological experiment with healthy young adults judging the immorality, harmfulness, and disgustingness of everyday moral scenarios (e.g., lying) and unusual purity scenarios (e.g., sex with a corpse) after receiving either a placebo or the beta-blocker propranolol (a drug that dampens visceral arousal). Results confirmed the three key hypotheses of the AHA. First, perceived harm and affective appraisals are neither competing nor independent but intertwined. Second, although
both perceived harm and affective appraisals predict moral judgment, perceived harm is consistently relevant across all scenarios (in line with the Theory of Dyadic Morality), whereas affective appraisals are especially relevant in unusual purity scenarios (in line with affect-as-information theory). Third, the “gut feelings” of visceral arousal are not as important to morality as often believed. Dampening visceral arousal (via propranolol) did not directly impact moral judgment, but instead changed the relative contribution of affective appraisals to moral judgment—and only in unusual purity scenarios. By embracing a constructionist view of the mind that blurs traditional dichotomies, the AHA reconciles historic harm-centric and current affect-centric theories, parsimoniously explaining judgment differences across various moral scenarios without requiring any “moral foundations.”


Moral psychology has long debated whether moral judgment is grounded in affect or harm. Seeking to reconcile these apparently competing perspectives, we have proposed an Affective Harm Account (AHA) of moral judgment. This account is conciliatory because it highlights the importance of both perceived harm and affect, not as competing considerations but as joint partners—two different horses yoked together pulling the cart of moral judgment.

The AHA also adds clarity to the previously murky nature of “affect” in moral psychology, differentiating it both in nature and measurement as (at least) two phenomena—embodied, free-floating, visceral arousal (i.e., “gut feelings”) and self-reported, context-bound, affective appraisals (i.e., “this situation is gross”). The importance of affect in moral judgment—especially the “gut feelings” of visceral arousal—was tested via administration of propranolol, which dampens visceral arousal via beta-adrenergic receptor blockade. Importantly, propranolol allows us to manipulate more general visceral arousal (rather than targeting a specific organ, like the gut, or a specific state, like nausea). This increases the potential generalizability of these findings to other moral scenarios (beyond disgust) where visceral arousal might be relevant. We measured the effect of propranolol (vs. placebo) on ratings of moral condemnation, perceived harm, and affective appraisals (i.e., operationalized as ratings of disgust, as in much past work). These ratings were obtained for both everyday moral scenarios (Hofmann et al., 2018)—which are dyadic in structure and thus obviously linked to harm—and for unusual purity scenarios, which are frequently linked to affective appraisals of disgust (Horberg et al., 2009). This study offers support for the three hypotheses of the AHA.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

How Disgust Affects Social Judgments

Inbar, Y., & Pizarro, D.
(2021, September 7). 


The emotion of disgust has been claimed to affect a diverse array of social judgments, including moral condemnation, inter-group prejudice, political ideology, and much more. We attempt to make sense of this large and varied literature by reviewing the theory and research on how and why disgust influences these judgments. We first describe two very different perspectives adopted by researchers on why disgust should affect social judgment. The first is the pathogen-avoidance account, which sees the relationship between disgust and judgment as resulting from disgust’s evolved function as a pathogen-avoidance mechanism. The second is the extended disgust account, which posits that disgust functions much more broadly to address a range of other threats and challenges. We then review the empirical evidence to assess how well it supports each of these perspectives, arguing that there is more support for the pathogen-avoidance account than the extended account. We conclude with some testable empirical predictions that can better distinguish between these two perspectives.


We have described two very different perspectives on disgust that posit very different explanations for its role in social judgments. In our view, the evidence currently supports the pathogen-avoidance account over the extended-disgust alternative, but the question is best settled by future research explicitly designed to differentiate the two perspectives.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Reactance, morality, and disgust: the relationship between affective dispositions and compliance with official health recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic

Díaz, R., & Cova, F. (2021). 
Cognition & emotion, 1–17. 


Emergency situations require individuals to make important changes in their behavior. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, official recommendations to avoid the spread of the virus include costly behaviors such as self-quarantining or drastically diminishing social contacts. Compliance (or lack thereof) with these recommendations is a controversial and divisive topic, and lay hypotheses abound regarding what underlies this divide. This paper investigates which psychological traits separate people who comply with official recommendations from those who don't. In four pre-registered studies on both U.S. and French samples, we found that individuals' self-reported compliance with official recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic was partly driven by individual differences in moral values, disgust sensitivity, and psychological reactance. We discuss the limitations of our studies and suggest possible applications in the context of health communication.

From the General Discussion

However, results for semi-partial correlations paint a different   picture. First, perspective-taking is no longer a significant predictor of past compliance, but only of future compliance. Moreover, correlations coefficients for care values and perspective-taking were no longer the highest:correlations were in the same order of magnitude for care values than for pathogen disgust and psychological reactance, and quite low (<.10) for perspective-taking. This suggests  that, compared to the  effect of pathogen disgust  and  psychological  reactance,  the effect of care values and perspective-taking was for a great part explainable by other variables. On the contrary,  the overall effect of Pathogen Disgust seemed mostly unaffected by  the introduction of other variables, suggesting that its effect is not explained by these other variables.

The effect of perspective-taking on past and future compliance was particularly low for Study 2a, compared to Studies 1a and 1b. What could explain this difference? A first possible explanation is the nature of our sample: two US samples in Studies 1a and 1b, and a French sample  for  Study  2a.  However, it is not  clear why  this  should make a difference to the relationship between perspective-taking and compliance. A second explanation might be that Study  2a  included fewer predictors  than  Studies1a and 1b.  However,  this  seems  unlikely, because the zero-order correlations for perspective-taking were also smaller in Study 2 a third explanation might be timing: as mentioned earlier,Studies 1a and 1 were conducted in the middle of the first wave, while Study 2a was conducted between the first and second French waves, at a time where victims of COVID-19 were far fewer and less present and salient in medias. In absence of actual persons to take the perspective of, perspective-taking might have been less likely to motivate compliance.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Disgust Can Be Morally Valuable

Charlie Kurth
Scientific American
Originally posted 9 May 21

Here is no an excerpt:

Let’s start by considering disgust’s virtues. Not only do we tend to experience disgust toward moral wrongs like hypocrisy and exploitation, but the shunning and social excluding that disgust brings seems a fitting response to those who pollute the moral fabric in these ways. Moreover, in the face of worries about morally problematic disgust—disgust felt at the wrong time or in the wrong way—advocates respond that it’s an emotion we can substantively change for the better.

On this front, disgust’s advocates point to exposure and habituation; just like I might overcome the disgust I feel about exotic foods by trying them, I can overcome the disgust I feel about same-sex marriage by spending more time with gay couples. Moreover, work in psychology appears to support this picture. Medical school students, for instance, lose their disgust about touching dead bodies after a few months of dissecting corpses, and new mothers quickly become less disgusted by the smell of soiled diapers.

But these findings may be deceptive. For starters, when we look more closely at the results of the diaper experiment, we see that a mother’s reduced disgust sensitivity is most pronounced with regard to her own baby’s diapers, and additional research indicates that mothers have a general preference for the smell of their own children. This combination suggests, contra the disgust advocates, that a mother’s disgust is not being eliminated. Rather, her disgust at the soiled diapers is still there; it’s just being masked by the positive feelings that she’s getting from the smell of her newborn. Similarly, when we look carefully at the cadaver study, we see that while the disgust of medical students toward touching the cold bodies of the dissection lab is reduced with exposure, the disgust they feel toward touching the warm bodies of the recently deceased remained unchanged.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Moral psychology of sex robots: An experimental study

M. Koverola, et al.
Journal of Brehavioral Robots
Volume 11: Issue 1


The idea of sex with robots seems to fascinate the general public, raising both enthusiasm and revulsion. We ran two experimental studies (Ns = 172 and 260) where we compared people’s reactions to variants of stories about a person visiting a bordello. Our results show that paying for the services of a sex robot is condemned less harshly than paying for the services of a human sex worker, especially if the payer is married. We have for the first time experimentally confirmed that people are somewhat unsure about whether using a sex robot while in a committed monogamous relationship should be considered as infidelity. We also shed light on the psychological factors influencing attitudes toward sex robots, including disgust sensitivity and interest in science fiction. Our results indicate that sex with a robot is indeed genuinely considered as sex, and a sex robot is genuinely seen as a robot; thus, we show that standard research methods on sexuality and robotics are also applicable in research on sex robotics.



Our results successfully show that people condemn a married person less harshly if they pay for a robot sex worker than for a human sex worker. This likely reflects the fact that many people do not consider sex with a robot as infidelity or consider it as “cheating, but less so than with a human person”. These results therefore function as a stepping-stone into new avenues of interesting research that might be appealing to evolutionary and moral psychologists alike. Most likely, sociologists and market researchers will also be interested in increasing our understanding regarding the complex relations between humans and members of new ontological categories (robots, artificial intelligences (AIs), etc.). Future research will offer new possibilities to understand both human sexual and moral cognition by focusing on how humans relate to sexual relationships with androids beyond mere fantasies produced by science fiction like Westworld or Blade Runner. As sex robots in the near future enter mass production, public opinion will presumably stabilize regarding moral attitudes toward sex with robots.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Reexamining the role of intent in moral judgements of purity violations

Kupfer, T. R., Inbar, Y. & Yybur, J.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 91, November 2020, 104043


Perceived intent is a pivotal factor in moral judgement: intentional moral violations are considered more morally wrong than accidental ones. However, a body of recent research argues that intent is less important for moral judgements of impure acts – that it, those acts that are condemned because they elicit disgust. But the literature supporting this claim is limited in multiple ways. We conducted a new test of the hypothesis that condemnation of purity violations operates independently from intent. In Study 1, participants judged the wrongness of moral violations that were either intentional or unintentional and were either harmful (e.g., stealing) or impure (e.g., public defecation). Results revealed a large effect of intent on moral wrongness ratings that did not vary across harmful and disgusting scenarios. In Study 2, a registered report, participants judged the wrongness of disgust-eliciting moral violations that were either mundane and dyadic (e.g., serving contaminated food) or abnormal and self-directed (e.g., consuming urine). Results revealed a large effect of intent on moral wrongness judgements that did not vary across mundane and abnormal scenarios. Findings challenge the claim that moral judgements about purity violations rely upon unique psychological mechanisms that are insensitive to information about the wrongdoer's mental state.

From the Discussion

Across two studies, we found that participants rated intentional disgusting acts more morally wrong than unintentional disgusting acts. Study 1 showed that intent had a large effect on moral judgement of mundane, dyadic impure acts, such as serving contaminated food, or urinating in public. Moreover, the effect of intent on moral judgement was not different for harm and purity violations. Study 2 showed that there was also a large effect of intent on moral judgement of abnormal, self-directed, purity violations, using scenarios similar to those frequently used in past research, such as eating a pet dog (e.g., Barrett et al., 2016), drinking urine (e.g., Young & Saxe, 2011), or eating cloned human meat (e.g., Russell & Giner-Sorolla, 2011). In Study 2 the effect of intent did not differ across abnormal, self-directed purity violations and mundane, dyadic purity violations. These results are inconsistent with previous findings purporting to show little or no effect of intent on moral judgements of impure acts (e.g., Barrett et al., 2016; Chakroff et al., 2015; Young & Saxe, 2011).

Italics added.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Reviving the US CDC

The Lancet
Volume 395, 10236
Originally published 16 May 20

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to worsen in the USA with 1·3 million cases and an estimated death toll of 80 684 as of May 12. States that were initially the hardest hit, such as New York and New Jersey, have decelerated the rate of infections and deaths after the implementation of 2 months of lockdown. However, the emergence of new outbreaks in Minnesota, where the stay-at-home order is set to lift in mid-May, and Iowa, which did not enact any restrictions on movement or commerce, has prompted pointed new questions about the inconsistent and incoherent national response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flagship agency for the nation's public health, has seen its role minimised and become an ineffective and nominal adviser in the response to contain the spread of the virus. The strained relationship between the CDC and the federal government was further laid bare when, according to The Washington Post, Deborah Birx, the head of the US COVID-19 Task Force and a former director of the CDC's Global HIV/AIDS Division, cast doubt on the CDC's COVID-19 mortality and case data by reportedly saying: “There is nothing from the CDC that I can trust”. This is an unhelpful statement, but also a shocking indictment of an agency that was once regarded as the gold standard for global disease detection and control. How did an agency that was the first point of contact for many national health authorities facing a public health threat become so ill-prepared to protect the public's health?

The article is here.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

A Constructionist Review of Morality and Emotions: No Evidence for Specific Links Between Moral Content and Discrete Emotions

Image result for moral emotionsCameron, C. D., Lindquist, K. A., & Gray K.
Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 
2015 Nov;19(4):371-94.
doi: 10.1177/1088868314566683.


Morality and emotions are linked, but what is the nature of their correspondence? Many "whole number" accounts posit specific correspondences between moral content and discrete emotions, such that harm is linked to anger, and purity is linked to disgust. A review of the literature provides little support for these specific morality-emotion links. Moreover, any apparent specificity may arise from global features shared between morality and emotion, such as affect and conceptual content. These findings are consistent with a constructionist perspective of the mind, which argues against a whole number of discrete and domain-specific mental mechanisms underlying morality and emotion. Instead, constructionism emphasizes the flexible combination of basic and domain-general ingredients such as core affect and conceptualization in creating the experience of moral judgments and discrete emotions. The implications of constructionism in moral psychology are discussed, and we propose an experimental framework for rigorously testing morality-emotion links.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The evolution of moral cognition

Leda Cosmides, Ricardo Guzmán, and John Tooby
The Routledge Handbook of Moral Epistemology - Chapter 9

1. Introduction

Moral concepts, judgments, sentiments, and emotions pervade human social life. We consider certain actions obligatory, permitted, or forbidden, recognize when someone is entitled to a resource, and evaluate character using morally tinged concepts such as cheater, free rider, cooperative, and trustworthy. Attitudes, actions, laws, and institutions can strike us as fair, unjust, praiseworthy, or punishable: moral judgments. Morally relevant sentiments color our experiences—empathy for another’s pain, sympathy for their loss, disgust at their transgressions—and our decisions are influenced by feelings of loyalty, altruism, warmth, and compassion.  Full blown moral emotions organize our reactions—anger toward displays of disrespect, guilt over harming those we care about, gratitude for those who sacrifice on our behalf, outrage at those who harm others with impunity. A newly reinvigorated field, moral psychology, is investigating the genesis and content of these concepts, judgments, sentiments, and emotions.

This handbook reflects the field’s intellectual diversity: Moral psychology has attracted psychologists (cognitive, social, developmental), philosophers, neuroscientists, evolutionary biologists,  primatologists, economists, sociologists, anthropologists, and political scientists.

The chapter can be found here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Certain Moral Values May Lead to More Prejudice, Discrimination

American Psychological Association Pressor
Released December 20, 2018

People who value following purity rules over caring for others are more likely to view gay and transgender people as less human, which leads to more prejudice and support for discriminatory public policies, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

“After the Supreme Court decision affirming marriage equality and the debate over bathroom rights for transgender people, we realized that the arguments were often not about facts but about opposing moral beliefs,” said Andrew E. Monroe, PhD, of Appalachian State University and lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General®.

“Thus, we wanted to understand if moral values were an underlying cause of prejudice toward gay and transgender people.”

Monroe and his co-author, Ashby Plant, PhD, of Florida State University, focused on two specific moral values — what they called sanctity, or a strict adherence to purity rules and disgust over any acts that are considered morally contaminating, and care, which centers on disapproval of others who cause suffering without just cause — because they predicted those values might be behind the often-heated debates over LGBTQ rights. 

The researchers conducted five experiments with nearly 1,100 participants. Overall, they found that people who prioritized sanctity over care were more likely to believe that gay and transgender people, people with AIDS and prostitutes were more impulsive, less rational and, therefore, something less than human. These attitudes increased prejudice and acceptance of discriminatory public policies, according to Monroe.

The info is here.

The research is here.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sarah Sanders tweet violates ethics laws

Morgan Gstalter
Originally posted June 23, 2018

The former director of the Office of Government Ethics said on Saturday that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s decision to tweet about being kicked out of a Virginia restaurant violated ethics laws.

Sanders was asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Va., on Friday night, but confirmed the incident in a Saturday morning tweet.

“Last night I was told by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, VA to leave because I work for [President Trump] and I politely left,” Sanders tweeted. “Her actions say far more about her than about me. I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so.”

The information is here.

Yes, Ms. Sanders could have used her personal twitter account, which would not have violated any government ethical codes or laws.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

What Makes Moral Disgust Special? An Integrative Functional Review

Giner-Sorolla, Roger and Kupfer, Tom R. and Sabo, John S. (2018)
Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 57

The role of disgust in moral psychology has been a matter of much controversy and experimentation over the past 20 or so years. We present here an integrative look at the literature, organized according to the four functions of emotion proposed by integrative functional theory: appraisal, associative, self-regulation, and communicative. Regarding appraisals, we review experimental, personality, and neuroscientific work that has shown differences between elicitors of disgust and anger in moral contexts, with disgust responding more to bodily moral violations such as incest, and anger responding more to sociomoral violations such as theft. We also present new evidence for interpreting the phenomenon of sociomoral disgust as an appraisal of bad character in a person. The associative nature of disgust is shown by evidence for “unreasoning disgust,” in which associations to bodily moral violations are not accompanied by elaborated reasons, and not modified by appraisals such as harm or intent. We also critically examine the literature about the ability of incidental disgust to intensify moral judgments associatively. For disgust's self-regulation function, we consider the possibility that disgust serves as an existential defense, regulating avoidance of thoughts that might threaten our basic self-image as living humans. Finally, we discuss new evidence from our lab that moral disgust serves a communicative function, implying that expressions of disgust serve to signal one's own moral intentions even when a different emotion is felt internally on the basis of appraisal. Within the scope of the literature, there is evidence that all four functions of Giner-Sorolla’s (2012) integrative functional theory of emotion may be operating, and that their variety can help explain some of the paradoxes of disgust.

The information is here.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Root of All Cruelty

Paul Bloom
The New Yorker
Originally published November 20, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

Early psychological research on dehumanization looked at what made the Nazis different from the rest of us. But psychologists now talk about the ubiquity of dehumanization. Nick Haslam, at the University of Melbourne, and Steve Loughnan, at the University of Edinburgh, provide a list of examples, including some painfully mundane ones: “Outraged members of the public call sex offenders animals. Psychopaths treat victims merely as means to their vicious ends. The poor are mocked as libidinous dolts. Passersby look through homeless people as if they were transparent obstacles. Dementia sufferers are represented in the media as shuffling zombies.”

The thesis that viewing others as objects or animals enables our very worst conduct would seem to explain a great deal. Yet there’s reason to think that it’s almost the opposite of the truth.


But “Virtuous Violence: Hurting and Killing to Create, Sustain, End, and Honor Social Relationships” (Cambridge), by the anthropologist Alan Fiske and the psychologist Tage Rai, argues that these standard accounts often have it backward. In many instances, violence is neither a cold-blooded solution to a problem nor a failure of inhibition; most of all, it doesn’t entail a blindness to moral considerations. On the contrary, morality is often a motivating force: “People are impelled to violence when they feel that to regulate certain social relationships, imposing suffering or death is necessary, natural, legitimate, desirable, condoned, admired, and ethically gratifying.” Obvious examples include suicide bombings, honor killings, and the torture of prisoners during war, but Fiske and Rai extend the list to gang fights and violence toward intimate partners. For Fiske and Rai, actions like these often reflect the desire to do the right thing, to exact just vengeance, or to teach someone a lesson. There’s a profound continuity between such acts and the punishments that—in the name of requital, deterrence, or discipline—the criminal-justice system lawfully imposes. Moral violence, whether reflected in legal sanctions, the killing of enemy soldiers in war, or punishing someone for an ethical transgression, is motivated by the recognition that its victim is a moral agent, someone fully human.

The article is here.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Turning Conservatives Into Liberals: Safety First

John Bargh
The Washington Post
Originally published November 22, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

But if they had instead just imagined being completely physically safe, the Republicans became significantly more liberal — their positions on social attitudes were much more like the Democratic respondents. And on the issue of social change in general, the Republicans’ attitudes were now indistinguishable from the Democrats. Imagining being completely safe from physical harm had done what no experiment had done before — it had turned conservatives into liberals.

In both instances, we had manipulated a deeper underlying reason for political attitudes, the strength of the basic motivation of safety and survival. The boiling water of our social and political attitudes, it seems, can be turned up or down by changing how physically safe we feel.

This is why it makes sense that liberal politicians intuitively portray danger as manageable — recall FDR’s famous Great Depression era reassurance of “nothing to fear but fear itself,” echoed decades later in Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address — and why President Trump and other Republican politicians are instead likely to emphasize the dangers of terrorism and immigration, relying on fear as a motivator to gain votes.

In fact, anti-immigration attitudes are also linked directly to the underlying basic drive for physical safety. For centuries, arch-conservative leaders have often referred to scapegoated minority groups as “germs” or “bacteria” that seek to invade and destroy their country from within. President Trump is an acknowledged germaphobe, and he has a penchant for describing people — not only immigrants but political opponents and former Miss Universe contestants — as “disgusting.”

The article is here.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Social Origins of Disgust

Joshua Rottman, Jasmine M. DeJesus, and Emily Gerdin
Forthcoming in The Moral Psychology of Disgust (Nina Strohminger and Victor Kumar, Eds.)

Despite being perfectly nutritious, consuming bugs is considered gross in many cultures
(Ruby, Rozin, and Chan 2015). This disgust reaction carries severe consequences. Considering
the negative environmental impacts of the growing consumption of beef, poultry, and fish, the
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has identified eating insects as a sustainable
solution for maintaining protein-rich diets (van Huis et al. 2013), but the prevalent disgust
reaction to this initiative presents a substantial hurdle. What is the function of such an irrational
response, one that may continue to endanger the natural environment? Do people experience
disgust toward insects because of perceived disease risks? Are people reacting to the reminder
that they are eating an animal, in the same way that many people react negatively to eating a
whole fish (with its head and eyes) compared to a fish fillet? We argue that social risks may
instead be motivating this reaction. More broadly, moving beyond the example of entomophagy,
we claim that disgust is much more deeply enmeshed in social and moral considerations than has
been previously acknowledged.

The scientific study of disgust has been predominantly concerned with uncovering its
ultimate adaptive purpose. Theories about the function of disgust abound, ranging from the
abhorrence of disorder and ambiguity (Douglas 1966) to an existential recoiling from reminders
of mortality and animality (Becker 1973; Goldenberg et al. 2001; Nussbaum 2004). However, a
clear front-runner has emerged amongst these diverse proposals: Disgust evolved because it has
helped humans to avoid physical contact with poisons, parasites, and pathogens. In this chapter,
we propose an alternative to the recurrent claim that disgust evolved for the sole purpose of
facilitating the avoidance of toxins and infectious disease (e.g., Chapman and Anderson 2012;
Curtis 2011; Curtis and Biran 2001; Davey 2011; Rozin and Fallon 1987; Rozin, Haidt, and
Fincher 2009; Schaller and Park 2011; Stevenson, Case, and Oaten 2009; Tybur et al. 2013).
Because this paradigmatic idea posits a purely physical (i.e., non-social) reason for the existence
of disgust, we refer to it as the “Physical Origins” hypothesis.

The book chapter is here.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Individual Differences in Moral Disgust Do Not Predict Utilitarian Judgments, Sexual and Pathogen Disgust Do

Michael Laakasuo, Jukka Sundvall & Marianna Drosinou
Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 45526 (2017)


The role of emotional disgust and disgust sensitivity in moral judgment and decision-making has been debated intensively for over 20 years. Until very recently, there were two main evolutionary narratives for this rather puzzling association. One of the models suggest that it was developed through some form of group selection mechanism, where the internal norms of the groups were acting as pathogen safety mechanisms. Another model suggested that these mechanisms were developed through hygiene norms, which were piggybacking on pathogen disgust mechanisms. In this study we present another alternative, namely that this mechanism might have evolved through sexual disgust sensitivity. We note that though the role of disgust in moral judgment has been questioned recently, few studies have taken disgust sensitivity to account. We present data from a large sample (N = 1300) where we analyzed the associations between The Three Domain Disgust Scale and the most commonly used 12 moral dilemmas measuring utilitarian/deontological preferences with Structural Equation Modeling. Our results indicate that of the three domains of disgust, only sexual disgust is associated with more deontological moral preferences. We also found that pathogen disgust was associated with more utilitarian preferences. Implications of the findings are discussed.

The article is here.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Disgust as embodied loss aversion

Simone Schnall
European Review Of Social Psychology Vol. 28 , Iss. 1, 2017


A quickly expanding literature has examined the link between physical disgust and morality. This article critically integrates the existing evidence and draws the following conclusions: First, there is considerable evidence that experimentally induced disgust and cleanliness influence moral judgment, but moderating variables and attributional processes need to be considered. Second, moral considerations have substantial effects on behavioural concomitants of disgust, such as facial expressions, economic games and food consumption. Third, while disgust involves a conservation concern, it can manifest itself in both liberal and conservative political attitudes. Overall, disgust can be considered to form part of a behavioural loss aversion system aimed at protecting valuable resources, including the integrity of one’s body. Recommendations are offered to investigate the role of disgust more rigorously in order to fully capture its role in moral life.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Do conservatives value ‘moral purity’ more than liberals?

Kate Johnson and Joe Hoover
The Conversation
Originally posted November 21, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Our results were remarkably consistent with our first study. When people thought the person they were being partnered with did not share their purity concerns, they tended to avoid them. And, when people thought their partner did share their purity concerns, they wanted to associate with them.

As on Twitter, people were much more likely to associate with the other person when they had similar response to the moral purity scenarios and to avoid them when they had dissimilar response. And this pattern of responding was much stronger for purity concerns than similarities or differences for any other moral concerns, regardless of people’s religious and political affiliation and the religious and political affiliation they attributed to their partner.

There are many examples of how moral purity concerns are woven deeply into the fabric of social life. For example, have you noticed that when we derogate another person or social group we often rely on adjectives like “dirty,” and “disgusting”? Whether we are talking about “dirty hippies” or an entire class of “untouchables” or “deplorables,” we tend to signal inferiority and separation through moral terms grounded in notions of bodily and spiritual purity.

The article is here.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Disgust made us human

By Kathleen McAuliffe
Originally posted June 6, 2016

Here are two excerpts:

If you’re skeptical that parasites have any bearing on your principles, consider this: our values actually change when there are infectious agents in our vicinity. In an experiment by Simone Schnall, a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge, students were asked to ponder morally questionable behaviour such as lying on a résumé, not returning a stolen wallet or, far more fraught, turning to cannibalism to survive a plane crash. Subjects seated at desks with food stains and chewed-up pens typically judged these transgressions as more egregious than students at spotless desks. Numerous other studies – using, unbeknown to the participants, imaginative disgust elicitors such as fart spray or the scent of vomit – have reported similar findings. Premarital sex, bribery, pornography, unethical journalism, marriage between first cousins: all become more reprehensible when subjects were disgusted.


From this point in human social development, it took a bit more rejiggering of the same circuitry to bring our species to a momentous place: we became disgusted by people who behaved immorally. This development, Curtis argues, is central to understanding how we became an extraordinarily social and cooperative species, capable of putting our minds together to solve problems, create new inventions, exploit natural resources with unprecedented efficiency and, ultimately, lay the foundations for civilisation.

The article is here.

Editor's note: Please, if you can make it past the dog rape example in the beginning of the article, it is a thought provoking article.  Go to the "comments" section to see what readers have to say about that example.