Download full-text PDF

Exposed intestines and contaminated cooks: Sex, stress, & satiation predict disgust sensitivity

Article · January 2012with175 Reads
DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2012.11.016
a b s t r a c t An evolutionary perspective predicts that the intensity of the disgust response should depend on the ancestral costs and benefits of coming into contact with disease vectors. Previous research advanced the compensatory behavioral prophylaxis hypothesis: progesterone-induced immunosuppression should be accompanied by increased disgust and contaminant-avoidance. However, extant data do not address whether factors other than progesterone-induced immunosuppression also trigger heightened disgust. The current study delineates two competing prophylaxis hypotheses and adjudicates between them by testing whether stress and satiation, which shift the costs and benefits of prophylactic behavior but are unrelated to progesterone-induced immunosuppression, predict disgust sensitivity. Results revealed a sex–stress–satiation interaction in predicting Disgust Scale-Revised (DS-R) scores. This study provides evidence of a broader system of compensatory prophylaxis, illuminates the functional basis of facultative shifts in disgust, and presents conceptual and statistical analyses for more cleanly cleaving the psychol-ogy of disgust at its natural joints.
This article appeared in a journal published by Elsevier. The attached
copy is furnished to the author for internal non-commercial research
and education use, including for instruction at the authors institution
and sharing with colleagues.
Other uses, including reproduction and distribution, or selling or
licensing copies, or posting to personal, institutional or third party
websites are prohibited.
In most cases authors are permitted to post their version of the
article (e.g. in Word or Tex form) to their personal website or
institutional repository. Authors requiring further information
regarding Elsevier’s archiving and manuscript policies are
encouraged to visit:
Author's personal copy
Exposed intestines and contaminated cooks: Sex, stress,
& satiation predict disgust sensitivity
Laith Al-Shawaf
, David M.G. Lewis
The University of Texas at Austin, USA
article info
Article history:
Received 27 August 2012
Received in revised form 18 November 2012
Accepted 21 November 2012
Available online 20 December 2012
Individual differences
Context effects
An evolutionary perspective predicts that the intensity of the disgust response should depend on the
ancestral costs and benefits of coming into contact with disease vectors. Previous research advanced
the compensatory behavioral prophylaxis hypothesis: progesterone-induced immunosuppression should
be accompanied by increased disgust and contaminant-avoidance. However, extant data do not address
whether factors other than progesterone-induced immunosuppression also trigger heightened disgust.
The current study delineates two competing prophylaxis hypotheses and adjudicates between them by
testing whether stress and satiation, which shift the costs and benefits of prophylactic behavior but
are unrelated to progesterone-induced immunosuppression, predict disgust sensitivity. Results revealed
a sex–stress–satiation interaction in predicting Disgust Scale-Revised (DS-R) scores. This study provides
evidence of a broader system of compensatory prophylaxis, illuminates the functional basis of facultative
shifts in disgust, and presents conceptual and statistical analyses for more cleanly cleaving the psychol-
ogy of disgust at its natural joints.
!2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
Disgust is a regulatory emotion that motivates disease avoid-
ance and reduces the likelihood of parasitic, bacterial, and viral
infection (Curtis, Aunger, & Rabie, 2004; Oaten, Stevenson, & Case,
2009). Disgust is a component of the behavioral immune system,a
suite of mechanisms that detects cues to pathogen presence and
triggers functionally coordinated cognitive and affective responses
that motivate behavioral avoidance of disease agents (Duncan,
Schaller, & Park, 2009; Neuberg, Kenrick, & Schaller, 2011).
Despite the universality of the emotion of disgust (Curtis &
Biran, 2001; Ekman, 1993; Ekman & Friesen, 1971), there are pro-
nounced individual differences in disgust sensitivity—the extent to
which pathogen cues activate cognitive and affective mechanisms
motivating avoidance behaviors (e.g. de Jong & Merckelbach, 1998;
Haidt, McCauley, & Rozin, 1994). Recent research has advanced our
understanding of the proximate causes and ultimate functions of
disgust (e.g. Neuberg et al., 2011; Schaller, Miller, Gervais, Yager,
& Chen, 2010), but the ultimate causes of individual and contextual
variation in disgust remain poorly understood. This paper applies
an evolutionary framework to enhance our understanding of the
functional nature of this emotion and individual variation in its
An evolutionary perspective predicts that disgust sensitivity
should depend on the costs and benefits of avoiding potential dis-
ease agents recurrent in ancestral environments. That is, disgust
should be more strongly activated under conditions recurrently
associated with higher net fitness costs of coming into contact with
contaminants. Previous theorists have advanced the compensatory
behavioral prophylaxis hypothesis, positing that progesterone-
induced decreases in immune functioning during pregnancy and
across the ovulatory cycle should be accompanied by increases in
disgust and behavioral avoidance of contaminants (Fessler, Eng,
& Navarrete, 2005; Fleischman & Fessler, 2011). Fessler and
colleagues (2005) found that women experience heightened
disgust during the first trimester of pregnancy, when immunosup-
pression is most pronounced. Research has also shown that women
in the luteal phase of the ovulatory cycle – when progesterone
levels and immunosuppression are highest – experience increased
disgust and heightened prophylactic behavior (Fleischman &
Fessler, 2011).
This work illuminates the functional nature of disgust and the
behavioral immune system, but leaves important questions unan-
swered. First, extant data do not address whether compensatory
prophylaxis can be triggered by causes of immunosuppression
other than reproductive immunomodulation. Moreover, it remains
unknown whether variables unrelated to immune functioning, but
that influence the costs and benefits of prophylactic behavior, also
lead to facultative shifts in disgust.
The current paper outlines competing compensatory behavioral
prophylaxis hypotheses, and derives and tests discriminative
0191-8869/$ - see front matter !2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Corresponding author. Address: Psychology Department, The University of
Texas at Austin, 1 University Station A8000, Austin, TX 78712, USA. Tel.: +1 512 547
7735; fax: +1 512 471 5935.
E-mail address: (L. Al-Shawaf).
Personality and Individual Differences 54 (2013) 698–702
Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect
Personality and Individual Differences
journal homepage:
Author's personal copy
predictions from these two hypotheses. Hypothesis 1 – the narrow
behavioral prophylaxis hypothesis – proposes that compensatory
behavioral prophylaxis is limited to reproductive immunomodula-
tion, or immunosuppression triggered by heightened progesterone.
By contrast, hypothesis 2 – the broad behavioral prophylaxis hypoth-
esis – proposes a broader system of prophylaxis that is activated by
a wider range of cues to increased costs of pathogen-exposure. This
range of cues may encompass immunosuppression caused by
reproductive immunomodulation, immunosuppression unrelated
to reproduction, and contexts unrelated to immune functioning
that would have shifted the costs and benefits of prophylactic
behaviors in ancestral environments.
We advance the broad behavioral prophylaxis hypothesis be-
cause natural selection should have favored prophylactic mecha-
nisms whose activation was sensitive to any conditions
recurrently associated with incurring costs or reaping benefits
from disease avoidance behaviors. This paper examines two vari-
ables that would be expected to influence compensatory prophy-
laxis mechanisms under the broad (but not the narrow)
prophylaxis hypothesis: stress and satiation.
1.1. Stress
Elevated stress, which suppresses immune functioning, should
be directly associated with heightened disgust sensitivity. Stress
increases disease susceptibility in a variety of species, including
humans (Cohen & Williamson, 1991; Glaser & Kiecolt-Glaser,
2005; Herbert & Cohen, 1993). This is true for a range of stressors,
from financial stress to relationship difficulties (Arnetz et al., 1987;
Kiecolt-Glaser & Glaser, 1992), and for a range of diseases (e.g.
colds, herpes, and mononucleosis; VanderPlate, Aral, & Magder,
1988). Stress-mediated immunosuppression would have shifted
the costs of disease-avoidance behavior during hominid evolution:
failure to avoid contaminants would have been more costly for
stressed individuals. The broad (but not the narrow) hypothesis
thus yields the prediction that an individual’s stress levels should
be positively associated with disgust sensitivity.
1.2. Satiation
Satiation should also predict disgust sensitivity under the broad
prophylaxis hypothesis. The costs of consuming potentially con-
taminated food would have been equivalent for hungry and sated
individuals. Hungry individuals, however, would have reaped
greater benefit from eating potentially contaminated, but also
potentially nutritious, sustenance-providing foods. The broad
(but not the narrow) hypothesis thus predicts that hungry individ-
uals should exhibit lower disgust sensitivity than sated individuals.
1.3. Sex
Research has revealed a robust sex difference in disgust sensi-
tivity: women have higher mean levels of disgust sensitivity than
men (e.g. Curtis et al., 2004; Haidt et al., 1994). This finding is con-
sistent with both hypotheses, and thus cannot offer discriminative
support in favor of either one. For example, the classical sex differ-
ence in disgust could be due to heightened compensatory prophy-
laxis triggered by progesterone-induced immunosuppression, as
women on average have higher levels of progesterone than men
(NIH Clinical Center, 2012). An alternative explanation for this
sex difference is that natural selection favored higher disgust sen-
sitivity among women because they spent more time in close con-
tact with their offspring in ancestral conditions than did men (Sear
& Mace, 2008). This would have meant that, on average, women
would have faced a higher risk of transmitting pathogens to their
offspring or fetuses. Pathogen exposure would thus have had
greater fitness repercussions for women than for men. These two
possibilities, the first derived from the narrow compensatory pro-
phylaxis hypothesis and the second derived from the broad
hypothesis, are not mutually exclusive. Because the finding of wo-
men’s higher disgust sensitivity does not discriminate between
these potential explanations, the effect of sex on disgust sensitivity
cannot adjudicate between the competing hypotheses presented in
this paper. Nonetheless, in keeping with previous research, we pre-
dicted that women would exhibit higher disgust sensitivity.
2. Method
2.1. Participants
We recruited four hundred twenty-eight women and 155 men,
(ages 18–70, M= 24.9, SD = 7.8) from the community at-large and
introductory psychology courses at a public university in the
southwestern United States. Participants provided informed con-
sent, and those enrolled in introductory psychology received par-
tial course credit.
2.2. Questionnaire and procedure
As part of a larger study, participants completed a questionnaire
consisting of items for which we had a priori predictions (e.g.
stress, satiation) and the Disgust Scale-Revised (DS-R; Haidt
et al., 1994, modified by Olatunji et al., 2007). Because lengthier
scales may have induced fatigue effects, we used single items to as-
sess stress and satiation. Recent research has demonstrated that
single-item measures have similar reliabilities as, strong conver-
gent correlations with, and explain nearly as much variance as
longer scales (Yarkoni, 2010). Together with these concerns about
fatigue effects, the specific, immunomodulation-based nature of
our hypotheses led us to focus our investigation on pathogen-dis-
gust, and rendered disgust related to anti-incestuous sentiment
and morality beyond the scope of the current study (Tybur, Lieber-
man, & Griskevicius, 2009).
The stress and satiation questions asked, ‘‘How stressed do you
feel right now?’’ and ‘‘How full (satiated) do you feel right now?’’
Participants responded to these items on 7-point Likert-type scales
ranging from 1 (not full at all, very hungry) to 7 (completely full)
and 1 (not stressed at all) to 7 (extremely stressed). The DS-R is
a 25-item measure of disgust. Each question is measured on a 5-
point scale, and after reverse scoring three items, all items are
summed to compute a composite disgust score (Olatunji et al.,
Participants completed the questionnaire on the Qualtrics ser-
ver. Upon completion, participants were debriefed and thanked
for their participation.
3. Results
3.1. Disgust components
The original Disgust Scale (DS) proposed eight different do-
mains of disgust but exhibited an unstable factor structure and
unsatisfactory reliability (Haidt et al., 1994; Olatunji et al., 2007).
Subsequent analyses have produced several revisions (Olatunji
et al., 2007). The three-factor DS-R is currently the most widely
used, but the DS-R’s factor structure remains questionable.
The DS-R divides disgust into three factors: core,contamination-
based, and animal-reminder. Core disgust is described as ‘‘disgust
based on a sense of offensiveness and the threat of disease.’’ Con-
tamination disgust is defined as ‘‘disgust reactions based on the
perceived threat of transmission of contagion.’’ The third factor,
L. Al-Shawaf, D.M.G. Lewis / Personality and Individual Differences 54 (2013) 698–702 699
Author's personal copy
animal reminder disgust, is described as ‘‘disgust that reflects the
aversion of stimuli that serve as reminders of the animal origins
of humans’’ (Olatunji et al., 2007, p. 285).
From an evolutionary perspective, the domains of disgust pre-
sented by the current DS-R model do not cleave human psychology
at its natural joints, leaving it with potential conceptual and theo-
retical shortcomings. The overlap between core disgust – ‘‘a sense
of offensiveness and the threat of disease’’ – and contamination
disgust – ‘‘based on the perceived threat of transmission of conta-
gion’’ – leaves their distinguishing features unclear. Indeed, recent
research has demonstrated that these subscales are highly corre-
lated and do not demonstrate distinctiveness (Tybur et al., 2009).
Moreover, the animal reminder factor is difficult to reconcile with
an evolutionary perspective on the emotions. Unlike threats of con-
tagious disease, reminders of humans’ animal origins would not
have negatively impacted human survival or reproduction during
hominid evolution. As such, animal reminder is not a conceptually
tenable subcategory of disgust (for a different discussion of this
problem, see Tybur et al., 2009).
To arrive at components of disgust that cleave human psychol-
ogy at its natural joints, we performed a Principal Components
Analysis (PCA; direct oblimin rotation) on the 25 items of the
DS-R. We initially extracted all components with an eigenvalue
greater than 1. This yielded six components, but the scree plot indi-
cated a smaller number. We subsequently compared all models
composed of five or fewer components. To identify the best model,
we employed the criterion of minimizing the total number of items
that either (a) failed to have an absolute loading of at least .35 on
one component or (b) had absolute loadings equal to or greater
than .35 on more than one component. This analysis converged
on two distinct components (between-component r=!.408;
Table 1).
Component 1, Contamination, included items such as ‘‘I proba-
bly would not go to my favorite restaurant if I found out that the
cook had a cold’’. Component 2, Death & Dismemberment, included
items such as ‘‘You see a man with his intestines exposed after an
accident.’’ Component loadings for all 25 items are presented in
Table 1. Both components exhibited satisfactory reliability (Con-
= .77, Death & Dismemberment:
= .80).
This two-component model has two advantages over the three-
factor DS-R. First, unlike animal-reminder disgust, Contamination
and Death & Dismemberment represent conceptually viable sub-
categories of disgust. Second, Contamination and Death & Dismem-
berment are distinct subcategories, unlike the DS-R’s subscales.
Contamination is pathogen-based, and corresponding to this do-
main of adaptive problems, its items describe contagion from other
humans, bodily effluvia, personal hygiene, and unsafe food sources.
Death & Dismemberment, on the other hand, describes issues re-
lated to physical trauma, and is concerned with injury and the par-
ticular disease threats posed by this class of stimuli.
Correspondingly, its items describe signs of severed body parts,
disembowelment, and death.
Despite overlap, these two domains of disgust are functionally
distinct. In ancestral environments, they would have been caused
by different categories of events, each associated with qualitatively
different classes of cues that may have triggered distinct behav-
ioral responses. In particular, the Death & Dismemberment domain
represents a class of stimuli that would have been indicative of the
risk of physical injury or attack, but also of pathogen exposure. As
such, this domain may elicit a negative emotional response that
contains elements of both fear and disgust.
3.2. Statistical analysis
We conducted backward elimination regression analyses to ex-
plore the main effects of, and interactions between, stress, sex, and
satiation. Overall DS-R scores and the Contamination and Death &
Dismemberment component scores were entered as dependent
variables in separate multiple regression analyses.
The three-way interaction between sex, stress, and satiation
predicted DS-R scores, b= .79, t(537) = 2.00, p< .05 (see Table 2
for full regression model). Simple slopes tests indicated that stress
increased disgust sensitivity among both hungry men, t= 3.46,
p= .001, and sated women, t= 2.35, p= .02 (Fig. 1). The effect of
Table 1
Factor loadings of Disgust Scale (DS-R) items.
Item Contamination Death &
You take a sip of soda, and then realize that you drank from the glass that an acquaintance of yours had been drinking from .64 .15
I never let any part of my body touch the toilet seat in public restrooms .63 .16
While you are walking through a tunnel under a railroad track, you smell urine .60 !.15
Even if I was hungry, I would not drink a bowl of my favorite soup if it had been stirred by a used but thoroughly washed
.57 .06
You discover that a friend of yours changes underwear only once a week .56 !.08
I probably would not go to my favorite restaurant if I found out that the cook had a cold .55 .08
A friend offers you a piece of chocolate shaped like dog doo .53 !.01
As part of a sex education class, you are required to inflate a new unlubricated condom using your mouth .52 !.04
You are about to drink a glass of milk when you smell that it is spoiled .49 !.04
You are walking barefoot on concrete, and you step on an earthworm .47 !.21
I might be willing to try eating monkey meat, under some circumstances !.39 .09
You see someone put ketchup on vanilla ice cream, and eat it .36 !.21
It bothers me to hear someone clear a throat full of mucus .27 !.11
It would bother me tremendously to touch a dead body !.07 !.81
You see a man with his intestines exposed after an accident !.06 !.71
It would bother me to be in a science class, and to see a human hand preserved in a jar !.07 !.66
It would not upset me at all to watch a person with a glass eye take the eye out of the socket .19 .58
You accidentally touch the ashes of a person who has been cremated .25 !.52
Your friend’s pet cat dies, and you have to pick up the dead body with your bare hands .30 !.50
It would bother me to sleep in a nice hotel room if I knew that a man had died of a heart attack in that room the night before .14 !.49
I will go out of my way to avoid walking through a graveyard .20 !.43
You see maggots on a piece of meat in an outdoor garbage pail .30 !.42
If I see someone vomit, it makes me sick to my stomach .07 !.37
It would bother me to see a rat run across my path in a park .31 !.35
Seeing a cockroach in someone else’s house doesn’t bother me !.23 .23
Factor loadings P.35 italicized and bolded.
700 L. Al-Shawaf, D.M.G. Lewis / Personality and Individual Differences 54 (2013) 698–702
Author's personal copy
stress among sated men did not reach statistical significance,
t= 1.21, ns. However, the effect was in the predicted direction for
sated men,and simple slopes difference tests indicated that the ef-
fect of stress did not differ between sated men and hungry men
(t=!.84, p= .40) or between sated men and sated women
(t= .04, p= .97). There was no effect of stress on hungry women,
t=!.04, p= .97. Consistent with the three predicted main effects,
the disgust levels of low-stress, low-satiation men were lower than
for any other individuals (Fig. 1).
Our a priori hypotheses pertained to composite disgust scores,
but we conducted exploratory multiple regression analyses on
the distinct disgust components as well. We found that different
models predicted disgust sensitivity in these two domains.
Sex and satiation interacted to predict Contamination disgust,
b=!.32, t(537) = !2.25, p< .05 (see Table 2 for full regression
model). Satiation was more positively associated with Contamina-
tion among men than among women. The final regression model
for Death & Dismemberment included two two-way interactions.
Satiation and sex interacted to predict Death & Dismemberment
disgust, b=!.38, t(537) = !2.71, p< .01. Stress and sex also inter-
acted to predict sensitivity to Death & Dismemberment cues,
b=!.26, t(537) = !1.98, p< .05.
3.3. Disgust Scale
The fact that different final models predicted the two compo-
nents is consistent with the notion that these components may re-
flect distinct domains of disgust. To further explore the structure of
these underlying constructs, and to contribute to the continued
refinement of the DS-R, we conducted exploratory factor analyses
(method: ML; rotation: direct oblimin) using the same conver-
gence criteria employed for the PCA. This analysis converged on
a two-factor solution (between-factor r=!.522) that was virtually
identical to that of the PCA. All items loaded on the same factors,
with the exception of three: ‘‘You see maggots on a piece of meat
on an outdoor garbage pail,’’ ‘‘If I see someone vomit, it makes
me sick to my stomach,’’ and ‘‘It would bother me to see a rat
run across my path in a park.’’ These three items had higher load-
ings on the two EFA factors relative to their loadings on the PCA
components. The remaining 22 items loaded on the same factors
as they did in the principal components analysis.
4. Discussion
The current study’s results replicate the finding that women
have higher mean levels of disgust than do men. Results provide
discriminative support for the broad behavioral prophylaxis
hypothesis: stress and satiation influence disgust sensitivity de-
spite being unrelated to progesterone fluctuations or reproductive
immunomodulation. These findings begin to address previously
unanswered questions about the scope of compensatory prophy-
laxis, and contribute to our understanding of facultative shifts in
disgust sensitivity. Finally, we propose a new factor structure for
the DS-R, buttressed by three pieces of evidence: evolutionary the-
oretical considerations, factor analysis results, and regression find-
ings indicating distinct predictive models for the two domains.
We predicted main effects of stress, sex, and satiation on dis-
gust sensitivity, but discovered a more complex relationship. As
Table 2
Regression models predicting disgust sensitivity as a function of stress, sex, and
DS-R scores B SE b
Individual differences
Stress .21
.09 .54
Sex 1.51
.36 1.09
Satiation .13
.06 .35
Two-way interactions
Stress "Sex !.27
.10 !.92
Stress "Satiation !.02 .02 !.37
Sex "Satiation !.24
.08 !.96
Three-way interaction
Sex "Stress "Satiation .04
.02 .79
Individual differences
Sex .55
.17 .38
Satiation .05 .03 .12
Two-way interactions
Sex "Satiation !.08
.04 !.32
Death & Dismemberment
Individual differences
Stress .14
.04 .27
Sex 1.09
.27 .61
Satiation .07 .04 .16
Two-way interactions
Stress "Sex !.10
.05 !.26
Sex "Satiation !.12
.04 !.38
p< .05.
p< .01.
p< .001.
Disgust Scale (DS-R) scroes
Satiation -1 SD
Satiation +1 SD
Disgust Scale (DS-R) scores
Satiation -1 SD
Satiation +1 SD
Fig. 1. Three-way interaction between sex, stress, and satiation in predicting
composite Disgust Scale (DS-R) scores. Lines represent model-predicted disgust
sensitivity levels. Higher levels of stress predicted greater disgust sensitivity among
men (top), an effect that did not differ as a function of satiation level. Higher levels
of stress were also associated with greater disgust sensitivity among women, but
this effect was limited to sated women (bottom). Consistent with the three
predicted main effects, model-predicted disgust levels were lowest for hungry, low-
stress men.
L. Al-Shawaf, D.M.G. Lewis / Personality and Individual Differences 54 (2013) 698–702 701
Author's personal copy
predicted, increased stress was associated with increased disgust
among men and sated women. The relationship between stress
and disgust is thus consistent with the notion that stress’s immu-
nosuppressive effect leads to a compensatory increase in behav-
ioral prophylaxis and lends support to the broad behavioral
prophylaxis hypothesis. However, it remains an open question
why the effect of stress was absent among hungry women. One
possible interpretation is that hungry women, who have very high
baseline levels of disgust in our dataset, may incur prohibitively
high costs from further increases in disgust, as this would lead to
excessive avoidance of potential food sources. One potential expla-
nation for the unexpected finding that hungry women have higher
levels of disgust than sated women is that hunger levels and food
intake are positively correlated with progesterone levels (Czaja,
1975; Dalvit, 1981; Hervey & Hervey, 1967), and some evidence
suggests a causal relationship between heightened progesterone
and increased hunger (Roberts, Kenney, & Mook, 1972).
5. Limitations and future directions
Recent research has demonstrated that single-item measures
often exhibit comparable reliability and validity to those of longer
scales (Yarkoni, 2010). Nonetheless, future work should replicate
these findings with longer stress and satiation scales, including
measures of chronic stress. It is important to expand disgust stim-
uli to include images or other cues of high ecological validity
(Curtis et al., 2004; Fleischman & Fessler, 2011), and to replicate
the findings reported in this article using the Disgust Scale devel-
oped by Tybur et al. (2009). It would also be fruitful to incorporate
endocrinological measures of stress and satiation (e.g. hormones
such as cortisol, leptin, orexin, and ghrelin), and immune markers
such as CD4 and CD8 T-cell counts. Finally, future work should
investigate the manifest behavioral output of the disgust system
in response to cues from distinct domains of adaptive problems
(Neuberg et al., 2011).
6. Conclusions
This study makes several contributions to the literature on dis-
gust sensitivity. First, it proposes a novel hypothesis about the nat-
ure and scope of disgust, and by advancing and testing two
competing evolutionary hypotheses, it provides discriminative
support for the broad behavioral prophylaxis system. Second, our
theoretical and statistical analyses offer a factor structure that is
as empirically sound and more conceptually compelling than the
current DS-R, which hopefully will contribute to the continued
refinement of the Disgust Scale (Haidt et al., 1994; Olatunji et al.,
2007) Third, using an evolutionary biological theoretical frame-
work, this study identified stress and satiation as previously unex-
amined variables that predict facultative shifts in disgust.
In finding support for a broader system of compensatory pro-
phylaxis, this study calls attention to a host of previously uninves-
tigated variables (e.g. sleep deprivation, depression) that may be
linked to disgust sensitivity via their association with immunosup-
pression, or via their influence on the costs and benefits of prophy-
lactic behavior. We hope that this framework will be of heuristic
value in spurring new research and guiding researchers to impor-
tant variables that may have otherwise remained unexamined.
The authors would like to thank David Buss for his excellent
feedback and his guidance as a mentor, and Natalie Aharon, Young
Seo, and Nick Ortiz for their invaluable help with data collection
and coding.
Arnetz, B. B., Wasserman, J., Petrini, B., Brenner, S. O., Levi, L., Eneroth, P., et al.
(1987). Immune function in unemployed women. Psychosomatic Medicine,
49(1), 3–12.
Cohen, S., & Williamson, G. (1991). Stress and infectious disease in humans.
Psychological Bulletin, 109, 5–24.
Curtis, V. A., Aunger, R., & Rabie, T. (2004). Evidence that disgust evolved to protect
from risk of disease. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 271,
Curtis, V. A., & Biran, A. (2001). Dirt, disgust and disease: Is hygiene in our genes?
Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 44, 17–31.
Czaja, J. A. (1975). Food rejection by female rhesus monkeys during the menstrual
cycle and early pregnancy. Physiology & Behavior, 14, 579–587.
Dalvit, S. P. (1981). The effect of the menstrual cycle on patterns of food intake. The
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 34(9), 1811. Retrieved from <http://>.
de Jong, P. J., & Merckelbach, H. (1998). Blood-injection-injury phobia and fear of
spiders: Domain specific individual differences in disgust sensitivity. Personality
and Individual Differences, 24, 153–158.
Duncan, L. A., Schaller, M., & Park, J. H. (2009). Perceived vulnerability to disease:
Development and validation of a 15-item self-report instrument. Personality and
Individual Differences, 47, 541–546.
Ekman, P. (1993). Facial expression and emotion. American Psychologist, 48(4),
Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. V. (1971). Constants across cultures in the face and
emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 17(2), 124–129. http://
Fessler, D. M. T., Eng, S. J., & Navarrete, C. D. (2005). Elevated disgust sensitivity in
the first trimester: Evidence supporting the compensatory prophylaxis
hypothesis. Evolution and Human Behavior, 26(4), 344–351.
Fleischman, D. S., & Fessler, D. M. T. (2011). Progesterone’s effects on the psychology
of disease avoidance: Support for the compensatory behavioral prophylaxis
hypothesis. Hormones and Behavior, 59, 271–275.
Glaser, R., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2005). Stress-induced immune dysfunction:
Implications for health. Nature Reviews Immunology, 5(3), 234–251. http://
Haidt, J., McCauley, C., & Rozin, P. (1994). Individual differences in sensitivity to
disgust: A scale sampling seven domains of disgust elicitors. Personality and
Individual Differences, 16(5), 701–713.
Herbert, T. B., & Cohen, S. (1993). Stress and immunity in humans: A meta-analytic
review. Psychosomatic Medicine, 55, 364–379.
Hervey, E., & Hervey, G. R. (1967). The effects of progesterone on body weight and
composition in the rat. Journal of Endocrinology, 37, 361–384.
Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., & Glaser, R. (1992). Psychoneuroimmunology: Can
psychological interventions modulate immunity? Journal of Consulting and
Clinical Psychology, 60, 569–575.
Neuberg, S. L., Kenrick, D. T., & Schaller, M. (2011). Human threat management
systems: Self-protection and disease avoidance. Neuroscience Biobehavioral
Review, 35(4), 1042–1051.
NIH Clinical Center. (2012). Progesterone historical reference ranges. United States
National Institutes of Health. <
Index> Retrieved 17.01.12.
Oaten, M., Stevenson, R. J., & Case, T. I. (2009). Disgust as a disease-avoidance
mechanism. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 303–321.
Olatunji, B. O., Williams, N. L., Tolin, D. F., Abramowitz, J. S., Sawchuk, C. N., Lohr, J.
M., et al. (2007). The disgust scale: Item analysis, factor structure, and
suggestions for refinement. Psychological Assessment, 19(3), 281–297. http://
Roberts, S., Kenney, N. J., & Mook, D. G. (1972). Overeating induced by progesterone
in the ovariectomized, adrenalectomized rat. Hormones and Behavior, 3,
Schaller, M., Miller, G. E., Gervais, W. M., Yager, S., & Chen, E. (2010). Mere visual
perception of other people’s disease symptoms facilitates a more aggressive
immune response. Psychological Science, 21, 649–652.
Sear, R., & Mace, R. (2008). Who keeps children alive? A review of the effects of kin
on child survival. Evolution and Human Behavior, 29, 1–18.
Tybur, J. M., Lieberman, D., & Griskevicius, V. (2009). Microbes, mating, and morality:
Individual differences in three functional domains of disgust. Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, 97, 103–122.
VanderPlate, C., Aral, S. O., & Magder, L. (1988). The relationship among genital
herpes simplex virus, stress, and social support. Health Psychology, 7(2),
Yarkoni, T. (2010). The abbreviation of personality, or how to measure 200
personality scales with 200 items. Journal of Research in Personality, 44(2),
180–198. 2010.01.002.
702 L. Al-Shawaf, D.M.G. Lewis / Personality and Individual Differences 54 (2013) 698–702
  • ...Different researchers have proposed different taxonomies of disgust (e.g., Haidt et al., 1994;Olatunji et al., 2007;Tybur et al., 2009), but in this article we will focus on a current classification scheme proposed by Tybur and colleagues. Rozin and colleagues' ( Haidt et al., 1994) earlier seminal work was of great historical importance and spurred dozens of new researchers to investigate disgust, but it suffers from conceptual and psychometric limitations that render the model untenable (see Al-Shawaf & Lewis, 2013;Al-Shawaf, Lewis, et al., 2015;Fessler & Navarrete, 2005;Tybur et al., 2009). Recent work by Tybur and colleagues ( Tybur et al., 2009;Tybur, Lieberman, Kurzban, & DeScioli, 2013) demonstrates that there appear to be three distinct types of disgust: pathogen, sexual, and moral disgust. ...
  • ...Providing a nice parallel to the case of cultural differences, an evolutionary psychological approach provides one with a means for making theoretically grounded a priori predictions about individual differences. For example, it has been suggested that individuals with less robust immune systems may have lower disgust thresholds (e.g., Fessler et al. 2004;Al-Shawaf and Lewis 2013;Al-Shawaf et al. 2015b) and that the emotions that arise after orgasm are likely different for men oriented toward short-term mating compared to those who are oriented toward long-term mating ( Al-Shawaf et al. 2015b). Researchers using this perspective have also predicted and found that attractive women anger more easily than their less-attractive counterparts ( Sell et al. 2009b), that attractive and physically formidable men anger more readily than their less-attractive and physically weaker counterparts ( Sell et al. 2009), that individuals with less bargaining power are more prone to shame ( Sznycer et al. 2012), that individuals with lower relational mobility are more shame-prone around their friends (but not around strangers, Sznycer et al. 2012), and that individuals with a stronger proclivity for shortterm mating have stably lower sexual disgust ( Al-Shawaf et al. 2015a). ...
  • ...For example, given men's stronger predilection for short-term mating and casual sex ( Buss, 2003;Lippa, 2009;Symons, 1979), a short-term mating opportunity with an attractive member of the opposite sex should suppress hunger much more powerfully among men than among women. By contrast, given the robust sex difference in disgust (women are more easily disgusted than men; Al Shawaf & Lewis, 2013;Al-Shawaf, Lewis, & Buss, 2014;Curtis et al., 2004;Tybur et al., 2012), the presentation of a pathogen threat should suppress hunger more effectively among women than among men. Ultimately, the outcome of tradeoffs between competing mechanisms such as hunger and sexual arousal will depend on the costs and benefits associated with allocating resources to one adaptive problem over another. ...
    Full-text available
October 1971 · Psychological Reports · Impact Factor: 0.53
    -Food deprivation was found to augment self-stimulation rates in forebrain and hippocampal areas. Estrogen had mixed effects, i.e., both positive and negative, in hypothalamic, as well as forebrain and hippocampal areas. Interacrions between the effects of food deprivation and esuogen were also noted. Two variables, food deprivation and estrogen levels, were manipulated concurrently to study... [Show full abstract]
    February 1986 · Physiology & Behavior · Impact Factor: 2.98
      The present experiment was designed to investigate the role of Progesterone in the regulation of two aspects of the female's appetitive sexual behavior. Ovariectomized females were tested for partner preference using either a test in which sexual interaction was not possible ("sexual orientation") or a test which included the possibility of sexual interaction ("sexually rewarded choice... [Show full abstract]
      Discover more