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Sexual stimuli can elicit both sexual arousal and disgust, which work against each other: Disgust motivates avoidance, arousal motivates approach. Previous studies suggest that in women sexual arousal temporarily inhibits sex-related disgust (e.g. Borg & de Jong, 2012), but not pathogenic disgust (e.g. Fleischman et al., 2015). This could serve the adaptive function of optimizing mating decisions, but studies have not yet assessed how disgust and sexual arousal interact in the face of potential mates. We tested the hypothesis that sexual arousal inhibits disgust if a partner is attractive, but not if he is unattractive or shows signs of disease. In an online experiment women rated their disgust towards anticipated behaviors with men depicted on photographs. Participants did so in a sexually aroused state and in a control state. The faces varied in attractiveness and the presence of disease cues (blemishes). We found that disease cues and attractiveness, but not sexual arousal influenced disgust. The results suggest that women feel disgust at sexual contact with unattractive or diseased men independently of their sexual arousal.
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Disgust Trumps Lust: Womens Disgust and Attraction
Towards Men Is Unaffected by Sexual Arousal
Florian Zsok
&Diana S. Fleischman
&Charmaine Borg
&Edward Morrison
#Springer International Publishing 2017
Abstract Mating is a double-edged sword. It can have great
adaptive benefits, but also high costs, depending on the mate.
Disgust is an avoidance reaction that serves the function of
discouraging costly mating decisions, for example if the risk
of pathogen transmission is high. It should, however, be tem-
porarily inhibited in order to enable potentially adaptive mat-
ing. We therefore tested the hypothesis that sexual arousal
inhibits disgust if a partner is attractive, but not if he is unat-
tractive or shows signs of disease. In an online experiment,
women rated their disgust towards anticipated behaviors with
men depicted on photographs. Participants did so in a sexually
aroused state and in a control state. The faces varied in attrac-
tiveness and the presence of disease cues (blemishes). We
found that disease cues and attractiveness, but not sexual
arousal, influenced disgust. The results suggest that women
feel disgust at sexual contact with unattractive or diseased men
independently of their sexual arousal.
Keywords Disgust .Sexual arousal .Attraction .Physical
attractiveness .Disease avoidance
Mating and pathogen avoidance both pose fundamental adap-
tive challenges. They have substantially shaped the evolution
of traits in non-human animals, as well as in humans (Buss and
Symons 2015; Dixson 2009; Schaller 2015; Trivers 1996).
However, the two are in tension (Lee et al. 2014): Mating
behavior like kissing or sex necessarily involves close physical
contact and exchange of bodily fluids, which poses a large risk
of infection with pathogens (Fleischman et al. 2015). Mating
decisions must therefore weigh the costs of pathogen transmis-
sion with the benefits of mating success (Tybur and Gangestad
2011; Tybur et al. 2013).
The potential costs and benefits of mating pivot around the
mates. Mating decisions therefore incorporate information
about particular mates in question. Particularly relevant are
their genetic quality and health status (Tybur and Gangestad
2011). For both of these properties, there exist easily available
visual cues that provide a heuristic for assessments (Sugiyama
2016). Physical attractiveness is assessed within milliseconds
of seeing a new face (Willis and Todorov 2006) and is a reliable
indicator of genetic quality and health (Little 2014;ReandRule
2016). Disease often manifests itself visibly on the organisms,
for example through skin blemishes (Bundy 2012;Ryanetal.
2012). Hence, visual information about a potential mate should
induce avoidance and approach tendencies in line with antici-
pated costs or benefits of mating (Al-Shawaf, Conroy-Beam,
Asao, & Buss, 2016; Tooby and Cosmides 2008).
Disgust evolved primarily to protect the organism from
pathogen threats by encouraging avoidance of potential path-
ogen vectors (Curtis et al. 2004; Oaten et al. 2009; Tybur and
Lieberman 2016). Hence, such stimuli also elicit it (Rozin
et al. 2008). But the emotion also promotes adaptive mating
*Florian Zsok
Diana S. Fleischman
Charmaine Borg
Edward Morrison
Department of Psychology, University of Portsmouth, King Henry
Building, King Henry I Street, Portsmouth PO1 2DY, UK
Department of Psychology, University of Zurich, Binzmühlestrasse
14, 8050 Zürich, Switzerland
Department of Clinical Psychology and Experimental
Psychopathology, University of Groningen, Grote Kruisstraat 2/1,
9712 TS Groningen, The Netherlands
Evolutionary Psychological Science
DOI 10.1007/s40806-017-0106-8
decisions (Al-Shawaf, Lewis, & Buss, 2015; Tybur et al.
2013). This is evidenced by the fact that people experience
disgust not only towards individuals who show signs of bad
health, pathogens, or potentially contagious disease
(Mortensen et al. 2010; Rozin et al. 2008;Ryanetal.2012)
but also towards for example mates outside of a fertile age
range (Fessler and Navarrete 2003; Tybur et al. 2009).
Disgust therefore discourages costly mating.
While disgust encourages avoidance, sexual arousal facili-
tates approach. This psycho-physiological state facilitates sex-
ual engagement through the following means: preparing the
body physiologically for intercourse (Masters and Johnson
1966), temporarily increasing sexual desire (Toates 2009),
narrowing attention to sexual stimuli, increasing approach
motivation towards them, and inhibiting negative emotions
(Barlow 1986; Janssen and Bancroft 2007;Prauseetal.
2008). Similar to disgust, it is sensitive to traits of the mate,
particularly physical attractiveness (Buunk et al. 2002;Hawk
et al. 2007; Stone et al. 2011). Both disgust and sexual arousal
therefore partly determine mating decisions based on visual
information about a mate.
Disgust and Sexual Arousal Influence Each Other
Disgust and sexual arousal motivate avoidance and approach,
respectively, and are therefore oppositional. Accordingly, peo-
ple tend to experience only one of them at a time (Koukounas
&McCabe,2001; Vonderheide and Mosher 1988). Because
sexual intercourse inherently involves stimuli that can trigger
strong aversion (e.g., genitals; Rozin et al. 1995), sexual
arousal should facilitate sexual engagement by temporarily
inhibiting avoidance tendencies and therefore also disgust re-
sponses (Borg and de Jong 2012). This also corresponds to
predictions by clinical models of sexual response: According
to the dual-control model of sexual response (Janssen and
Bancroft 2007), negative emotions like disgust need to be
suppressed to enable seamless sex, in that they draw attention
away from sexual stimuli and therefore disrupt the sexual
response cycle. More specifically, de Jong et al. (2013)pro-
pose that sexual arousal and disgust inhibit one another. They
claim that in a given moment, the more prominent of the two
suppresses the other and gives rise to the congruent response.
That means that if disgust outweighed sexual arousal, it would
pull away attention from arousing stimuli and guide it towards
the disgust elicitor, and vice versa. Accordingly, this would
reduce sexual arousal and therefore reduce approach,
facilitating avoidance.
Research indeed indicates that disgust inhibits sexual
arousal. Fleischman et al. (2015) and Andrews et al. (2015)
experimentally induced disgust in a group of male and female
participants and found that those groups reported less subse-
quent sexual arousal to erotic movies than the control groups.
Thus, the existing evidence for an inhibitory effect of disgust
on sexual arousal is relatively clear cut in both sexes. Three
experiments also showed convincingly that mens disgust sen-
sitivity decreases under sexual arousal (Ariely and
Loewenstein 2006; Lee et al. 2014; Stevenson et al. 2011).
Findings on the effect of sexual arousal on disgust in women,
however, have been very mixed.
Does Sexual Arousal Inhibit Disgust in Women?
A Note on Disgust Domains The studies we are going to
review have discriminated between types/domains of
disgust, and have used different classifications to do so. We
will therefore briefly clarify the terms used. Tybur et al. (2013)
coined the term sexual disgust to refer to disgust towards
sexual acts that are evolutionarily disadvantageous, e.g., sex
with a partner in an infertile age range. However, van
Overveld et al. (2013) used it in the context of disgust towards
sex-related stimuli more generally, interchangeably with sex-
related disgust. Borg and de Jong (2012)haveusedtheword
sex-related disgust to describe disgust towards sex-related
stimuli. Sex-related disgust is therefore a more general term
that also encompasses both usages of sexual disgust. We will
therefore refer to sexual disgust according to Tybur et al.s
(2013) definition and to sex-related disgust as elicited by
sex-related stimuli. Pathogen disgust is generally used to refer
to disgust elicited by stimuli of potentially infectious organ-
isms (Tybur et al. 2013). This can also exclude sexual stimuli,
but we will use it to refer to disgust to only sex-unrelated
Four studies have directly examined whether women expe-
rience a reduction in disgust when sexually aroused. They all
used a similar experimental setup, in which participants were
either sexually aroused or in a control state, and rated their
disgust towards various stimuli. Borg and de Jong (2012)
asked sexually aroused, positively/physically aroused, and
unaroused women to perform certain disgusting tasks. The
tasks were either sex-related (e.g., touching a lubricated con-
dom) or not (e.g., eating a biscuit with an insect on it). The
sexually aroused group, compared to the other two groups,
completed the highest number of disgusting tasks and reported
finding all the tasks less disgusting. These group differences
were larger for sex-related tasks than sex-unrelated tasks.
Lee et al. (2014) looked at sexual and pathogen disgust.
Participants sexually aroused themselves at home in their own
preferred way and then filled out the Three Domains of
Disgust Scale that comprises pathogen, moral, and sexual dis-
gust (Tybur et al. 2009). Sexually aroused women were less
sexual disgust sensitive than the control group, but also more
pathogen disgust sensitive. Van Overveld and Borg (2015)
found no difference in disgust towards neutral, pathogenic,
van Overveld and Borg (2015)didnotfindthiseffect.
Evolutionary Psychological Science
or sexual images between a sexual arousal and a threat arousal
group. Finally, Fleischman et al. (2015) found no influence of
sexual arousal on womens pathogen disgust. Arousal was
measured both by self-report and with a physiological mea-
sure of genital blood flow (vaginal plethysmography). Women
who were aroused did not rate highly pathogen salient images
(e.g., excrement, dead animals, and injured, diseased, or dead
humans) as less disgusting than women who were not
aroused. The authors also found that both physiological and
subjective measures of sexual arousal did not decrease subse-
quent ratings of disgust at these images. Taken together, these
studies suggest that sexual arousal does not inhibit disgust
generally. Effects have been selective on particular classes of
stimuli in single studies, but with inconsistent results across
studies. One limitation of all four studies is that they assessed
participantsdisgust towards stimuli that are largely irrelevant
for mating. But as we have argued, avoidance and approach
motives should be regulated according to properties of poten-
tial mates. The interactional effect of sexual arousal and dis-
gust should therefore depend on the sexual partner at hand.
Sexual arousal may facilitate intercourse with physically at-
tractive, healthy-looking mates, whereas disgust may prevent
intercourse with unattractive or diseased mates.
Study and Hypotheses
In the present study, we tested whether sexual arousal
downregulates womens disgust towards potential mates and
whether this is moderated by the matesphysical attractiveness
and disease cues (rosacea blemishes). Participants rated their
disgust towards different men when they were sexually aroused
and when they were not. We thereby extended previous
methods by testing the effect of sexual arousal on disgust with-
in participants. The focus was on women because past studies
have found the link between sexual dysfunction and disgust
only in women, not in men (Borg et al. 2010; Grauvogl et al.
2015) and because there are significant sex differences in dis-
gust (Fleischman 2017; Skolnick 2013; Tybur et al. 2011),
sexual arousal patterns (Carvalho et al. 2013; Chivers 2010),
and the interaction of the two (Andrews et al. 2015; Lee et al.
2014). We hypothesized that sexual arousal will decrease dis-
gust towards attractive, but not towards unattractive mates (hy-
pothesis 1) and that sexual arousal will only reduce disgust
towards mates without disease cues, but not towards mates with
disease cues (hypothesis 2).
Faces Twenty pictures of male faces were obtained with per-
mission from a modeling website and from the Warsaw set of
emotional facial expression pictures (Olszanowski et al.
2015). We chose to show only faces because women generally
pay most attention to and infer most relevant information
about a mate by looking at the face (Re and Rule 2016;
Wagstaff et al. 2015). They were rated for attractiveness by
121 women from the social network of the first author on a
scale ranging from 0 = not at all,to10=extremely,withthe
midpoint 5 = average. We choose the six pictures with the
highest and the six with the lowest attractiveness ratings.
The mean rating of the attractive faces was 6.60 (SD =.60)
and the mean of the unattractive ones was 2.51 (SD =.54).
This difference was statistically significant with a large effect
size, t=55.73,p<.000,d= .96. A professional photo editor
then first smoothed the skinof all faces, because skin quality is
a cue to disease as well (Bundy 2012; Re and Rule 2016;
Sugiyama 2016). He then made a version of each picture in
which the face contained blemishes typical of the disease ro-
sacea. See Fig. 1for example pictures.
Videos There was one video for each of the two conditions.
The video in the sexual arousal condition was a 6-min women
friendly erotic clip showing a Caucasian mixed-sex couple.
The first minute consisted of non-genital foreplay, followed
by about 2 min of cunnilingus, and another 3 min of penile-
vaginal intercourse in the man-on-top and rear entry position.
Forty-five women in previous studies (Hamilton and Meston
2013; Harte and Meston 2008) have reacted to it with both
physiological and self-reported sexual arousal (L. D.
Hamilton, personal correspondence, December 8, 2015).
The video also corresponded to the recommendations for
Fig. 1 Examples of the pictures used, with attractiveness and blemishes
Evolutionary Psychological Science
female sex research by Woodard et al. (2008). The neutral
condition contained a 7-min video blog of a Caucasian,
mixed-sex couples hiking trip (Flying The Nest 2015). The
video was chosen because it was simple, physical, and pleas-
ant and thus relatively comparable to the erotic clip.
Furthermore, the couple was comparable in physical attrac-
tiveness to the pornographic actors.
When signing up for the study, we instructed participants to
participate online from home where likely most comfortable
being sexually aroused. Prior studies have successfully
employed related methods (Ariely and Loewenstein 2006;
Lee et al. 2014). When participants opened the link to the
study on Qualtrics, they were randomly assigned to one of
the two conditions and received informed consent according-
ly. The instructions emphasized that they should be alone and
undisturbed for at least 20 min. They were then asked to pro-
vide information on demographics, sexual orientation, their
menstrual cycle, relationship status, use of oral contraception,
and recent illness. Parts of this information were used to con-
trol for factors that have been shown to influence womens
disgust reactions (Fessler and Navarrete 2003; Fleischman
2014), perception of potential partnersfaces (DeBruine
2014; Sacco et al. 2012), and reaction to visual sexual stimuli
(Mass et al. 2009;Renfroetal.2015;WallenandRupp2010).
Participants were then shown one of the videos according
to their randomly assigned condition. If they were in the sex-
ual arousal condition, they were reminded of the explicit con-
tent and had to open the video in a separate window to view it.
They were only able to continue with the survey after the
respective video was over. They were then asked about their
level of sexual arousal and disgust as a manipulation check
(How sexually aroused/disgusted are you feeling right now?).
The questions were answered on scale from 0 = Not at all to
4=Very much.
Participants consequently viewed six pictures of male
faces, half of which were attractive and half of which were
unattractive. Three of them contained blemishes. Because the
blemishes could not be evenly divided among unattractive and
attractive faces, we counterbalanced across participants
whether two attractive and one unattractive face contained
blemished or vice versa. Furthermore, we used a Latin square
and counterbalanced the order of the faces and conditions
across participants in order to eliminate order and priming
effects (DeBruine 2014).
Participants indicated how attractive they found the men
depicted on a scale from 0 = Not at all attractive to 4 = Very
attractive. They also indicated how disgusted they would feel
Talking to that person,”“Hugging that person,”“Kissing that
person,and Having sex with that person.We chose these
four behaviors in order to cover sexual and non-sexual behav-
iors, for which we expected different effects based on previous
studies (Borg and de Jong 2012; Stevenson et al. 2011). The
items also ranged from a casual interpersonal behavior to in-
timate physical contact and should therefore differ greatly in
the disgust they elicit (Ryan et al. 2012). Furthermore, sam-
pling across behaviors enabled us to account for effects that a
single behavior might have and avoid floor or ceiling effects.
The items were answered on a scale from 0 = Notatall
disgusting to 6 = Extremely disgusting.
After these ratings, we again assessed levels of sexual
arousal via self-report. Participants in the neutral condi-
tion then filled out the pathogen disgust scale from the
Three Domains of Disgust Scale (Tybur et al. 2009). This
enabled us to control for individual differences in disgust
sensitivity. Furthermore, based on a trend in their data,
Fleischman et al. (2015) suggested that individual differ-
ences in disgust sensitivity may predict the degree to
which sexual arousal influences motivation to engage
with attractive and unattractive targets with and without
disease cues. Only one subscale was used, because it ap-
pears to be the most valid one and relates most strongly to
disgust sensitivity (Tybur et al. 2010). Its reliability was
adequate, GuttmansL-2=.70.
Finally, we asked respondents How seriously did you take
this survey?and they replied once again on a scale from
0=Not at all to 4 = Very much. After filling out this first part,
participants were asked to fill out the second part the next day
for which they received a reminder per email. The second
questionnaire placed them in the other of the two conditions.
It comprised a different set of faces, comparable in physical
attractiveness ratings and blemishes, to rule out effects of fa-
miliarity (Little et al. 2014). Eventually participants were fully
debriefed about the purpose of the study.
Statistical Power and Sample Size Estimation
There were two analyses of our prime interest: first, com-
paring overall disgust levels between the two conditions
and second, our hypothesis; hence, the interaction effect
of sexual arousal and attractiveness/blemishes on disgust.
Effect sizes of the main effect of sexual arousal between
groups in previous studies were an approximate eta
.08 (Lee et al. 2014; Stevenson et al. 2011). We therefore
estimated that it would take 34 participants in a repeated
measures design to obtain a power of .8 (Guo et al. 2013).
We stopped data collection after we reached a sufficient
number of participants for this analysis (54; Simmons
et al. 2011).
We used five-point and seven-point Likert scales with at least the endpoints
labeled throughout the study, as Weijters, Cabooter, and Schillewart (2010)
Evolutionary Psychological Science
The raw data consisted of 91 participants that had completed
part one and 54 that had completed part two. Some of the
responses of the two parts could not be connected due to
missing information.
Several participants in the sexual arous-
al condition (11 in part one and four in part two) reported no
sexual arousal at all and were hence excluded from the anal-
ysis. Two participants who identified ashomosexual were also
The analyses were performed on two nested datasets. One
was the fully repeated measurements sample (RM data;
n= 38), in which each participant had been placed in both
the sexual arousal and the neutral condition. The other dataset
consisted only of those who completed part one of the study,
with each participant in only one of the conditions (n=79).
There were 34 women in the sexual arousal and 45 in the
neutral condition.
It was therefore analyzed between partici-
pants (BP data). All participants in the RM data also complet-
ed part one. Therefore, we report the demographics of the
participants in the exhaustive BP dataset.
Participants were female psychology undergraduates from
the participant pools of the authorsuniversities. Their ages
ranged from 18 to 43 years, with a mean of 21.66 (SD =4.10).
Most (N= 66; 83.5%) were Caucasian, and the others were of
various other ethnicities. Three participants reported to be bi-
sexual, the rest identified as mostly or exclusively heterosex-
ual. Forty-four participants were single and the other 35 were
in a relationship; 37 used oral contraceptives, 42 did not.
Recruitment took place via internal advertisement in the uni-
versities and participation was rewarded with course credits.
Manipulation Check
We performed manipulation checks on both the BP and the
RM data. Table 1shows the means of the two sexual arousal
self-reports (after the video and after the faces), baseline dis-
gust (measured after the video), and how seriously partici-
pants took the survey, per dataset. The table also depicts the
outcomes of the ttests between the sexual arousal and the
neutral condition. The between and within participant tests
of the two datasets corresponded to each other. Participants
reported significantly and substantially more sexual arousal in
the sexual arousal condition than the neutral condition, both
before and after seeing the faces. The sexual arousal condition
also scored higher on baseline disgust. Seriousness scores
were high overallno participant had a score smaller than
twoand did not differ significantly between conditions.
The manipulation therefore worked as expected, with disgust
levels as a possible confound.
Main Analysis
Disgust Hypothesis 1 predicted that sexual arousal would de-
crease disgust towards attractive, but not unattractive faces;
hypothesis 2 predicted that sexual arousal would not reduce
disgust towards blemished faces. Thus, we expected interac-
tion effects between sexual arousal and attractiveness, and
sexual arousal and blemishes. We computed a fully repeated
measures analysis of variance (RM ANOVA) using the RM
data, with attractiveness, blemishes, sexual arousal, and be-
havior as predictors. Behavior was added as a control variable
within participants. The dependent variable was disgust to-
wards each behavior. Table 2shows the corresponding statis-
tics. We found significant main effects of behavior, attractive-
ness, and blemishes, but not of sexual arousal. Unattractive
faces (M =3.49,SE = .12) elicited significantly more disgust
than attractive faces (M =2.19,SE = .11), and blemished faces
(M =3.11,SE = .12) elicited more disgust than unblemished
faces (M =2.57,SE = .11). Behaviors became increasingly
disgusting as they became more sexual (see Fig. 2). All
depicted differences in Fig. 2reached statistical significance
(see Table 3for within participant contrasts). There was a
significant behavior by attractiveness interaction. As can be
seen in Fig. 2, the more sexual the behaviors became, the
larger the difference in disgust between attractive and unat-
tractive faces. The mean differences in the order of behaviors
were .25 (.73) for talking, .88 (1.15) for hugging, 1.99 (1.25)
for kissing, and 2.24 (1.38) for sex. There were no other sig-
nificant interaction effects. Both hypotheses were not
Individual Differences and Between Participant Analysis
We also controlled for baseline disgust after seeing the video
and for the individual difference variables age, conception
risk, oral contraception, recent illness, being in a relationship,
and pathogen disgust sensitivity. Because these variables all
varied between, not within participants, we computed a mixed
design ANOVA with the BP sample of part one (n= 79),
retaining our main variables sexual arousal, behavior, attrac-
tiveness, and blemishes in the analysis. Sexual arousal varied
between participants in this analysis, and as can be seen in
Tab le 4, it again did not influence disgust ratings. Overall, this
analysis mirrored the results of the fully repeated measure-
ment design.
When adding all the individual difference variables in one
model, there were a few significant, yet meaningless
Participants received an individual ID code in part one, but some did not
report it in part two.
The assumption of homogeneity of variance was met despite the difference
cell sizes.
Evolutionary Psychological Science
interaction effects
that most likely resulted from an inflated
type I error rate. Therefore, we are reporting the tests for
adding each variable separately to the mixed design
ANOVA. This analysis was also more meaningful in terms
of statistical power. Age and conception risk were added as
covariates, oral contraception, recent illness, and relationship
status as between participant dummy variables. We computed
conception risk using the estimation for irregularly menstru-
ating women by Wilcox et al. (2000) and excluded partici-
pants that used oral contraception fromthe computation (miss-
ing data). For pathogen disgust sensitivity, we performed a
median split on the data similarly to Fleischman et al. (2015)
and therefore treated it as a between participant dummy vari-
able as well.
The test statistics are listed in Table 4.Noneof
the variables reached statistical significance.
We also examined how ratings of attractiveness of the faces
were influenced by attractiveness level,
blemishes, and sexual
arousal of the participants. We ran a fully RM ANOVA with
attractiveness ratings as the DV (see Table 5). Attractiveness
ratings were influenced by attractiveness level and blemishes,
but not by sexual arousal. This also validated our attractiveness
manipulation. Furthermore, there was an interaction effect be-
tween attractiveness level and blemishes. For unattractive
faces, there was no difference in attractiveness ratings between
blemished (M=1.62,SD = .76) and unblemished (M= 1.68,
SD = .67) faces, t(90) = .65, p= .516, d= .14 . But in attractive
faces, there was a large difference between blemished
(M= 3.21, SD = .91) and unblemished (M=4.00,SD = .86)
faces, t(90) = 6.50, p< .001, d= 1.37. Hence, blemishes only
reduced the attractiveness ratings of attractive faces, and attrac-
tive unblemished faces were rated as particularly attractive.
Individual difference variables also did not affect attractiveness
ratings, but for conciseness, the tests are not reported here.
The main goal of this study was to investigate the effect of
sexual arousal on womens disgust towards potential mates,
moderated by the matesattractiveness and disease cues. We
hypothesized that sexual arousal would decrease disgust to-
wards attractive, but not towards unattractive or blemished
men. Both hypotheses were not confirmed. Disgust, as well
as attractiveness ratings, were influenced by attractiveness and
blemishes, but not by sexual arousal. Sexual arousal also did
not interact with any of the variables. Individual difference
variables did not have any effects either.
Attractiveness and Blemishes
As expected, attractiveness decreased womens disgust to-
wards behaviors with the men depicted. This is in line with
the findings of Principe and Langlois (2011) that attractive
faces elicit less disgust than unattractive faces and with
Mehrabian and Blum (1997) who showed that attractive faces
elicited more positive emotions in viewers. These findings
highlight the desirability of physical attractiveness, particular-
ly as mates (Eastwick et al. 2014;Zsoketal.2017).
Attractiveness seems to reduce disgust and therefore also
avoidance tendenciesprobably because it signals good
health and small risk of pathogen transmission (Gangestad
1993;Sugiyama2016; Tybur and Gangestad 2011).
Some interaction effects were significant, because one of the cell differences
was significant and the other was not. However, these differences never
reflected trends in line with the literature. Furthermore, for interaction
effects, they were partly very small groups, hence low power and hence a
higher type II error rate.
This variable was only available from participants who completed the neutral
condition (n= 44).
As a reminder, the attractiveness level refers to the attractiveness manipula-
tion, hence to the attractive and unattractive faces we chose based on pilot
testing. Attractiveness ratings refer to how attractive participants of this study
rated the faces.
Tabl e 1 Sexual arousal directly
after participants had seen the
video and after they had rated the
faces, disgust after rating the
faces, how serious participants
took the survey, and the distance
between the two conditions
Arousal condition Neutral condition
Mean (SD)Mean(SD)Cohensd
BP data Arousal after video 2.64 (.93) .29 (.59) 3.02***
Arousal after faces 1.40 (1.1) .48 (.82) .97***
Disgust .60 (.78) .27 (.54) .49*
Seriousness 3.58 (.61) 3.8 (.47) .40
RM data Arousal after video 2.66 (1.02) .24 (.49) 3.02***
Arousal after faces 1.82 (1.14) .37 (.59) 1.55***
Disgust .60 (.87) .11 (.39) .71**
Seriousness 3.74 (.62) 3.82 (.39) .17
Significance is based on ttests
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We also found that the more physically intimate the behaviors
were, the less disgust elicited attractive as opposed to unattrac-
tive men. This also seems like an adaptive choice considering
potential mating costs. The behaviors we assessed (talking to,
hugging, kissing, sex) differed in the extent that they require
physical contact and therefore also in the potential adaptive costs
associated with pathogen transmission (Rozin et al. 1995). Sex,
the behavior that elicited the greatest disgust, and the greatest
difference between attractive and unattractive faces, additionally
involves costs/benefits associated with potentially producing
offspring. The more potentially costly a behavior is on average,
the more important it is to choose a partner that optimizes the
cost-benefit ratio. Accordingly, our study shows that anticipated
disgust seems to be a particularly useful indicator for potential
costs when they are high. Overall, womens behavioral tenden-
cies reflected our initial premise that attractiveness and health
both signal potentially beneficial mating and that disgust is in-
dicative of potential costs with suboptimal mates.
In line with Ryan et al. (2012), our study shows that
blemished faces, independently of their attractiveness, elicit
more disgust than unblemished faces This might explain
why people with face blemishes seem to experience more
negative social interactions (Kent 2002; Schachter et al.
1971; Wright et al. 1970). Blemishes reduced the attractive-
ness of attractive faces, but not of unattractive faces. This
could be because there are many attributes that determine
the attractiveness of a face (Little 2014; Re and Rule 2016;
Sugiyama 2016). Unattractive faces contain other cues that
might show detrimental traits, so the blemishes we added
might not have made large difference. Similarly, the effect
cosmetic make-up has on womens faces is rather small com-
pared to the inherent properties of the face (Jones and Kramer
2015). Another explanation might be that the blemishes made
the threat of infection salient, and participants therefore be-
came more critical in evaluating the attractiveness of the faces
(Little, DeBruine, & Jones, 2011; Young et al. 2011).
Sexual Arousal and Disgust
Sexual arousal did not influence disgust ratings, even when
we controlled for the specific behaviors, individual differ-
ences, and baseline disgust. Contrary to Istvan et al. (1983),
there was also no effect of sexual arousal on attractiveness
ratings. Studies in men, however, consistently show that sex-
ual arousal decreases their disgust sensitivity (Ariely and
Loewenstein 2006; Lee et al. 2014; Stevenson et al. 2011).
de Jong et al.s(2013) model provides a possible explana-
tion for the null results of this and previous studies
Tabl e 2 RM ANOVA table for the effects of sexual arousal, behavior,
attractiveness, and blemishes on disgust
Effect Fdf pPartial eta
Arousal .30 1 .86 .00
Behavior 46.43 1.38
.000 .72
Attractiveness 70.44 1 .000 .80
Blemishes 9.29 1 .007 .34
Arousal × behavior .35 1.87
.70 .02
Arousal × attractiveness .33 1 .57 .02
Arousal × blemishes .33 1 .57 .02
Behavior × attractiveness 45.45 1.44
.000 .72
We used the Greenhouse-Geisser correction of degrees of freedom due
to the broken assumption of sphericity
Talking to Hugging Kissing Sex
Mean disgust
Fig. 2 Mean disgust ratings per behavior and attractiveness. All
differences were statistically significant
Tabl e 3 Within subject contrasts between the disgust scores towards
the different behaviors
Contrast tCohensd
Talking to vs. hugging 2.96 .31
Hugging vs. kissing 7.41 1.08
Kissing vs. sex 21.79 2.14
All degree of freedom were 37. All pvalues are below .01
Tabl e 4 Mixed design ANOVA of the main variables, with disgust
ratings as the dependent variable, and sexual arousal varying between
participants, controlling for individual difference variables
Effect Fdf pPartial eta
Arousal .11 1 .74 .00
Behavior 164.53 1.60
.000 .68
Attractiveness 85.83 1 .000 .53
Blemishes 13.94 1 .000 .16
Baseline disgust .61 1 .44 .01
Age .05 1 .83 .00
Pathogen disgust sensitivity 1.38 1 .25 .01
Conception risk .97 1 .33 .03
Recent illness .47 1 .50 .01
Relationship status .27 1 .61 .01
We used the Greenhouse-Geisser correction of degrees of freedom due
to the broken assumption of sphericity
Evolutionary Psychological Science
(Fleischman et al. 2015; van Overveld & Borg, 2015): Sexual
arousal might have not exceeded the level of disgust to the
extent that it would occupy attentional resources and therefore
inhibit disgust. Women on average have a higher disgust sen-
sitivity and propensity than men (Andrews et al. 2015; Borg
et al. 2015; Fleischman 2017; Grauvogl et al. 2015;
Rohrmann et al. 2008; Tybur et al. 2011). This also implies
that they require relatively more sexual arousal to outweigh
disgust and elicit a sexually functioning feedback loop (de
Jong et al. 2013). In other words, sexual arousal is less likely
to outweigh disgust in women. This is also thought to be the
underlying problem in sexual dysfunctions involving disgust
(Borg et al. 2010). The expected inhibitory effect of sexual
arousal on disgust might therefore be observable in experi-
ments using a strong sexual arousal manipulation (Lee et al.
2014) and/orless disgusting stimuli. Our stimuli were not very
disgusting per se, but the men depicted were unfamiliar to
participants, and strangers tend to elicit more disgust than
familiar others (Borg et al. 2015; Peng et al. 2013; Rozin
et al. 1995). The increased baseline disgust level in the sexual
arousal condition might have contributed to an imbalance be-
tween sexual arousal and disgust in favor of the latter.
The mixed findings in women could also be explained by the
sex-specific challenges in evolutionary history (Buss and
Schmitt 1993). Women face greater potential costs from sexual
intercourse, because of parental investment, as well as greater
susceptibility to disease (Fleischman 2014; Madkan et al. 2006).
Hence, they favor a sexual strategy that involves mating inside
long-term committed relationships, with partners whose traits
they have carefully examined (Schmitt 2015). The women in
our study had never seen the men they were presented before.
The study therefore presented them with a short-term mating
scenario. Selection pressures might have not been strong on
evolving a mechanism that suppresses disgust in such scenarios,
because it yields little evolutionary benefit. It might even impose
costs due to suboptimal mating decisions. In sum, while sexual
arousal clearly decreases disgust in men, this effect seems to be
weak, and/or more dependent on context in women.
Individual Difference Variables
We did not find that any individual difference variables (age,
pathogen disgust sensitivity, recent illness, relationship status,
oral contraception, conception risk) influenced disgust or at-
tractiveness, although previous research has (Curtis et al.
2004;DeBruine2014; Fessler and Navarrete 2003;
Fleischman 2014; Gruijters et al. 2016;Parketal.2012).
The fact that we did not find a link between recent illness
and disgust might be because we employed only explicit mea-
sures, while other studies have found this link only on implicit
measures (Lund and Boggero 2014; Miller and Maner 2011).
The null effect of being in a relationship is in line with the
findings of Wang et al. (2016). Failure to replicate the effects
of the other variables probably stems from the fact that they
have been rather small and that our study lacked the statistical
power to detect them. Furthermore, some variables, for exam-
ple facial masculinity, have been precisely manipulated in
other studies (DeBruine et al. 2010), while our manipulations
pertained to attractiveness globally. So overall, our data does
not directly refute these effects, but merely confirms that they
are small.
Our results should be interpreted in light of methodological
constraints, for example regarding the experimental manipu-
lation. We cannot know for sure whether participants fully
complied with the instructions. Although we used a validated
erotic video, participants might not have found it pleasant,
which contributes to womens sexual arousal in response to
erotica (Carvalho et al. 2013). Our self-report measure of sex-
ual arousal also did not guarantee that women were physically
aroused (Chivers et al. 2010). Research to date has not yet
addressed whether disgust inhibition, or attentional processes
more broadly, operates differently under self-reported vs.
physiologically measured sexual arousal. Participants agreed
to watch pornographic material for the study, which poses a
volunteer bias typical for sex research (Bogaert 1996; Hock
2015; Wiederman 1999); also, participants might be accus-
tomed to pornography, and less sensitive to it (Kelley and
Musialowski 1986; Koukounas and Over 2000). Future stud-
ies on sexual arousal might avoid these limitations by
allowing participants to arouse themselves in their preferred
manner (Lee et al. 2014), or self-select erotica (Goldey and
van Anders 2016; Ioannou et al. 2016). Other than that, this
study might have profited from measuring additional control
variables, for example sociosexuality (Murray, Jones, &
Schaller, 2013;Saccoetal.2012), or baseline mood (ter
Kuile et al. 2010). Also, we might have trapped participants
into labeling any positive or negative feelings as attraction and
disgust, respectively, and therefore we might have left out
other feelings that could play a role.
We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for pointing out some of
these limitations.
Tabl e 5 Statistics for the RM ANOVA on attractiveness ratings
FpPartial eta
Arousal 1.12 .298 .03
Intended attractiveness 581.53 .000 .94
Blemish 22.05 .000 .37
Intended attractiveness × blemish 7.25 .011 .17
Only the significant interaction effect is listed. All degrees of freedom are 1
Evolutionary Psychological Science
This study suggests that approach and avoidance motivation
in women towards unfamiliar potential mates are unaffected
by their sexual arousal state, but are affected by the mates
visible traits. Specifically, attractiveness and a lack of disease
cues increase approach (attraction) and decrease avoidance
motivation (disgust) towards engagement with mates.
Acknowledgements We would like to thank Andrea Schlump for her
helpful comments on the study design and Aaron Kreidel for the editing
of the stimuli. This research did not receive any specific grant from
funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.
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... Although this association appears quite robust, several studies provide mixed or null results. Zsok, Fleischman, Borg, and Morrison [50] tested the impact that sexual arousal has on disgust activation when individuals are presented with an attractive or unblemished potential mate. Women were asked to rate their disgust toward anticipated behaviors with photos of men that varied in attractiveness and amount of disease cues (i.e., blemishes). ...
... The study found that more disease cues and lower attractiveness significantly increased levels of sexual disgust; however, there was no effect of sexual arousal on decreasing disgust ratings. Zsok, Fleischman, Borg, and Morrison [50] conclude that this provides evidence for the salience of disease cues in selecting potential mates. The authors stated several ideas about why sexual arousal had no effect on disgust ratings in this study. ...
... This supports an evolutionary account of arousal as an emotion that hypothesizes that women need a higher level of stimulation in order to activate sexual arousal than do men [43]. Second, the authors [50] speculate that levels of arousal in this study were not sufficient enough to override the disgust that was activated by the photos of unattractive or blemished men. The authors [50] take this as supporting evidence of de Jong, van Overveld, and Borg's [10] model, arguing that for women, in order for the inhibitory effects of sexual arousal to work, levels of sexual arousal must outweigh levels of disgust. ...
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Purpose of Review The aim of this review is to examine recent literature on the relationship between sexual disgust and aspects of female sexual functioning, with consideration of how an evolutionary perspective of this important emotion may help inform treatment and intervention programs. Recent Findings Researchers have begun to link sexual disgust with sexual dysfunction in women. There is evidence to suggest that sexual disgust has an inhibitory effect on sexual arousal, and that it is involved in the development and maintenance of sexual pain disorders. While research has begun to investigate the influence of sexual disgust as it relates to female sexual arousal disorder and orgasm, the overall picture of whether or not sexual disgust facilitates sexual dysfunction in these areas is unclear. Understanding the evolutionary relevance of sexual disgust provides an important perspective for diagnosing and treating sexual dysfunction in women. Summary Sexual disgust is an emotion that evolved to coordinate a solution to the adaptive problem of avoiding negative outcomes such as disease or selecting a suboptimal mate. Although this emotion within the normal range has an adaptive function, excessively high levels are hypothesized to lead to sexual dysfunction. Understanding individual differences in trait or state-based disgust might elucidate individual differences in susceptibility of sexual dysfunction and expedite the development of interventions targeted to help resolve impediments to healthy sexual functioning.
... In contrasting the disgusting and the 'elevating, ' Haidt (2000) notes that they can be understood as sitting on a vertical axis, with those things that seem to blur the human-animal distinction being regarded as disgusting, and giving rise to a desire to distance oneself from the object in question, and protect the boundaries of the self from it; and those things that seem to blur the human-god distinction being regarded as 'elevating,' and giving rise to a desire to open up to, or even merge with, the 'elevating' object. Similarly, in line with William Miller's (1996: 137, 140-41) suggestions, there is evidence that feelings of love diminish our sensitivity to disgusting things-as where parents seem inured to what, to others, would be disgusting, and indeed ugly, in their own children (Case et al. 2006)-and can even weaken the boundaries of the self to allow for the transgression of the ordinarily-disgust-defended boundaries of the self-as occurs in sexual communion with those we find beautiful (Borg & de Jong 2012;and Zsok et al. 2017). ...
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I offer the first sustained defence of the claim that ugliness is constituted by the disposition to disgust. I advance three main lines of argument in support of this thesis. First, ugliness and disgustingness tend to lie in the same kinds of things and properties (the argument from ostensions). Second, the thesis is better placed than all existing accounts to accommodate the following facts: ugliness is narrowly and systematically distributed in a heterogenous set of things, ugliness is sometimes enjoyed, and ugliness sits opposed to beauty across a neutral midpoint (the argument from proposed intensions). And third, ugliness and disgustingness function in the same way in both giving rise to representations of contamination (the argument from the law of contagion). In making these arguments, I show why prominent objections to the thesis do not succeed, cast light on some of the artistic functions of ugliness, and, in addition, demonstrate why a dispositional account of disgustingness is correct, and present a novel problem for warrant-based accounts of disgustingness (the ‘too many reasons’ problem).
... 9, this volume; Borg and De Jong 2012;Stevenson et al. 2011a). However, it is worth noting that one online study found that sexual arousal did not blunt women's disgust (Zsok et al. 2017). Other research finds that people who are food deprived exhibit less facial disgust in response to unpalatable food images (Hoefling et al. 2009). ...
... This finding corroborated previous evidence obtained by van Overveld and Borg (2015), where an increase in sexual arousal was not associated with decreased disgust to sexual stimuli. It was also in line with other studies showing that sexual arousal did not reduce domain-specific disgust, such as sexual or pathogen disgust (Fleischman et al., 2015;Lee et al., 2014;Zsok et al., 2017). However, this finding also contradicted a body of earlier studies in which sexually aroused participants rated sexual stimuli as less disgusting compared with participants who were not sexually aroused (Ariely & Loewenstein, 2006;Borg & de Jong, 2012;Stevenson et al., 2011). ...
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Sexual response occurs when sexual excitatory factors outweigh inhibitory factors. Problems with sexual arousal may occur when sexual excitation is too low and/or inhibitory influences such as feelings of disgust are too strong. To explore interventions that may help overcome decreased sexual responding, we examined if sexual responding could be amplified by instructions to up-regulate sexual arousal and/or down-regulate disgust. Women with no sexual difficulties (N = 255; µage = 20.55; SD = 2.23) were randomly assigned to a sexual arousal up-regulation, disgust down-regulation, or passive control condition. Participants were instructed to use the assigned regulation strategy while viewing pornography. To prevent floor effects due to low disgust responsivity in a non-clinical sample, half of the participants were presented with a prime that was designed to make the contaminating properties of sex more salient. Instruction to up-regulate sexual arousal successfully enhanced feelings of sexual arousal in the unprimed group, yet the increase in sexual arousal was not paralleled by reductions in feelings of disgust. Instruction to down-regulate disgust successfully decreased disgust; however, this decrease was not paralleled by increases in sexual arousal. Overall, findings indicate that emotion regulation techniques could facilitate affective control in sexual contexts.
... When inflammation levels rise, disgust sensitivity and avoidance reactions become more pronounced [55][56][57]. Disgust can interfere with approach-related emotions, including sexual arousal [58,59]. Experimentally induced disgust strongly inhibits female sexual arousal [60][61][62]. ...
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Purpose of Review To describe the current state of research on interactions between inflammation and female sexual function. Recent Findings Inflammation may interfere with female sexual desire and arousal via direct (neural) and indirect (endocrine, vascular, social/behavioral) pathways. There are significant sex differences in the effect of inflammation on sexual function, arising from different evolutionary selection pressures on the regulation of reproduction. A variety of inflammation-related conditions are associated with the risk of female sexual dysfunction, including cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and chronic pain. Summary Clinical implications include the need for routine assessment for sexual dysfunction in patients with inflammation-related conditions, the potential for anti-inflammatory diets to improve sexual desire and arousal function, and consideration of chronic inflammation as moderator of sexual effects of hormonal treatments. Although the evidence points to a role for inflammation in the development and maintenance of female sexual dysfunction, the precise nature of these associations remains unclear.
... Other pleasant or rewarding stimuli (e.g., adventure, animals, etc.) appear less effective than erotica at evoking emotion-modulated responses. Sexual arousal can competitively reduce the effects of intense negative emotions, like disgust (Borg & de Jong, 2012; for exception, see Zsok, Fleischman, Borg, & Morrison, 2017). ...
Sexual responses are some of the strongest, primary rewards used in research and, arguably, in nature. Sexual response often is considered only in isolation as a reflection of good general health or relevant solely for reproduction. Yet, altered responsiveness to sexual rewards is evident in a number of affective disorders not limited to sexual difficulties. The chapter reviews how sexual responses are affected in general emotional disorders, then attempts to distinguish these, often unsuccessfully, from related sexual difficulties.
... Thus, it is possible that sexual arousal elicited by the sexual stimuli interfered with women's disgust ratings, thereby attenuating our ability to detect phasic changes in disgust across the menstrual cycle. Findings on the relationship between arousal and disgust have been mixed, with one study finding that sexual arousal inhibits disgust (Borg and de Jong 2012), another finding that sexual arousal inhibits sexual disgust but not pathogen disgust (Lee et al. 2014), one study finding arousal and disgust effects may depend on one's underlying trait-levels of disgust (Fleischman et al. 2015), and still others finding no effects (van Overveld and Borg 2015;Zsok et al. 2017). As sexual arousal data was collected in the current sample as part of a larger study (Bossio et al. 2014), we ran post hoc analyses on the association between genital and self-reported sexual arousal and disgust. ...
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Women’s susceptibility to infection has been found to vary across the menstrual cycle. During the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, when progesterone levels are at their peak, women experience a downregulation in inflammatory immune responses to tolerate the presence of foreign paternal genetic material. The prophylaxis hypothesis holds that, during such periods of physiological immune vulnerability, women will engage in increased prophylactic behavior in response to cues associated with pathogen transmission (like sexual cues) to guard against infection. The current study examined disgust and other proposed prophylactic responses (i.e., attention and desire for solitary and dyadic sexual activity) in response to sexual and nonsexual films among naturally cycling women (N = 21) during the follicular and luteal phases of their menstrual cycles. No significant differences were found during the follicular and luteal phase on disgust, attention, or desire for solitary or dyadic sexual activity. Strong negative associations were found between feelings of disgust to sexual stimuli and proposed prophylactic behaviors (attention, desire for sexual activity with a partner) that were most prominent during the luteal phase of women’s menstrual cycles, suggesting that they may have served as a prophylactic mechanism, protecting women’s bodies from infection during a period of immune vulnerability. However, contrary to hypothesis, no significant associations were found between progesterone (the hormone that regulates changes in immune functioning) and proposed prophylactic responses. Further research examining prophylactic effects in response to sexual stimuli is warranted.
Disgust is a natural disease-avoidance emotion experienced as an aversive feeling towards something subjectively offensive. In human sexuality, disgust plays an adaptive role, which consists of avoiding sexual behaviors that potentially lead to harm, such as transmission of diseases, unfavorable mate choices, or social exclusion. Recent studies indicate that sexual disgust may be linked to female sexual dysfunction.
Sexual health risks are challenging to communicate given the potential negative reactions of target audiences to explicit language. Grounded in research on pathogen avoidance, the current study examined the impact of varying levels of explicit language on message perceptions and safe sex behavioral intentions. U.S. adults (N = 498) were randomly assigned to view messages detailing pandemic safe sexual behavior that contained either low or high levels of explicit language. High explicit language significantly increased perceived disgust which also indirectly linked high explicit language with increased intentions to engage in safe sex behavior. Individual difference variables moderated the impact of message explicitness; dispositional hygiene disgust moderated the impact of high explicit, hygiene-focused messages on safe sex intentions. Those with relatively low levels of dispositional disgust were more positively impacted by explicit language. The results suggest the value of increased message explicitness for sexual health communication and have implications for pathogen avoidance behaviors, the behavioral immune system, and dispositional and affective forms of disgust.
The heterosexual male gaze is often credited with producing bodily anxieties among women, yet empirical and popular cultural evidence suggest gay men have especially negative views toward women’s bodies, particularly women’s genitalia. Across two studies (N = 6,129; Mage = 27.58; 2,047 women, 4,082 men) we conducted secondary analyses of existing datasets to test the hypotheses that gay men would evaluate labia more negatively than heterosexual men, and that lesbian women would evaluate labia more positively than heterosexual women. We conducted fixed-effects mini meta-analyses to estimate summary effect sizes for perceptions of normalcy and fit with societal ideals; we additionally assessed an outcome of disgust in Study 2. We found support for our hypotheses: For normalcy and societal ideal, we found small summary effects such that gay men evaluated labia more negatively than heterosexual men, and medium summary effects such that lesbian women evaluated labia more positively than heterosexual women. Gay men also rated labia as more disgusting than any other demographic group, and lesbian women rated the stimuli as less disgusting than heterosexual women, supporting our hypotheses. The current findings suggest a pressing need to acknowledge and incorporate gay men’s perceptions of women’s bodies into literatures on misogyny, objectification, and body image more generally.
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Sympathy crying is an odd and complex mixture of physiological and emotional phenomena. Standard psychophysiological theories of emotion cannot attribute crying to a single subdivision of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and disagreement exists regarding the emotional origin of sympathy crying. The current experiment examines sympathy crying using functional thermal infrared imaging (FTII), a novel contactless measure of ANS activity. To induce crying female participants were given the choice to decide which film they wanted to cry to. Compared to baseline, temperature started increasing on the forehead, the peri-orbital region, the cheeks and the chin before crying and reached even higher temperatures during crying. The maxillary area showed the opposite pattern and a gradual temperature decrease was observed compared to baseline as a result of emotional sweating. The results suggest that tears of sympathy are part of a complex autonomic interaction between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems, with the latter preceding the former. The emotional origin of the phenomenon seems to derive from subjective internal factors that relate to one’s personal experiences and attributes with tears arising in the form of catharses or as part of shared sadness.
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Objective: Recent work suggests that the psychology of pathogen avoidance has wide-reaching effects on how people interact with the world. These processes - part of what has been referred to as the behavioral immune system- are, in a way, our "evolved" health psychology. However, scholars have scarcely investigated how the behavioral immune system relates to health-protective behaviors. The current research attempts to fill this gap. Design: Across two cross-sectional studies (N=386 and 470, respectively), we examined the relationship between pathogen-avoidance motives and health-protective behavior. Outcome measures: The studies used self-reported measures of attitude and intention as indicators of health-protective behavior. Results: Data collected in Study 1 revealed that pathogen-avoidance motivation related to participants' attitude and intention towards STI screening. High levels of pathogen-avoidance motivation were also related to having had fewer sexual partners, which partially mediated the effect of pathogen-avoidance variables on testing motivation. Study 2 extended these findings by showing moderate associations between pathogen-avoidance motivation and a broad range of health-protective behaviors, including but not limited to pathogen-related health concerns. Conclusion: We argue that understanding and targeting pathogen-avoidance psychology can add novel and important understanding of health-protective behavior.
Love at first sight (LAFS) is a commonly known phenomenon, but has barely been investigated scientifically. Major psychological theories of love predict that LAFS is marked by high passion. However, it could also be a memory confabulation construed by couples to enhance their relationship. We investigated LAFS empirically by assessing feelings of love at the moment participants met potential partners for the first time. Data were collected from an online study, a laboratory study, and three dating events. Experiences of LAFS were marked neither by high passion, nor by intimacy, nor by commitment. Physical attraction was highly predictive of reporting LAFS. We therefore suggest that LAFS is not a distinct form of love, but rather a strong initial attraction that some label as LAFS, either in the moment of first sight or retrospectively.
In this chapter, evidence is reviewed regarding the reproductive strategies—and specialized mating psychologies—fundamental to humans. Cross-species comparisons and ethnological patterns observed across foraging cultures help to clarify our most basic human mating adaptations. Overall, extant evidence suggests there is no single mating strategy in humans. Humans evolved a pluralistic mating repertoire that is facultatively responsive to sex, temporal contexts, personal characteristics such as mate value and ovulatory status, and evocative features of culture and local ecology.
Human psychology is characterized by a motivational system (the ?behavioral immune system?) that appears to have evolved as a means of providing prophylactic protection against pathogen infection. This chapter provides an overview of research on the behavioral immune system, describing why it evolved, how it operates, and its many implications?some obvious and some not?for human cognition and human behavior. This overview is presented in the form of 12 ?things you need to know? that, collectively, summarize the scope of contemporary research on the behavioral immune system, and provide a foundation for thinking critically about it.
This chapter focuses on (1) outlining an adaptationist perspective on physical attractiveness, (2) presenting the basic questions that this perspective leads us to ask, (3) reviewing some important empirical advances in the answering of these questions, and (4) highlighting research avenues calling for increased attention. It argues that human physical attractiveness assessment is generated by adaptations functioning to evaluate evolutionarily relevant cues to human social value across multiple domains of interaction (kin, mating, cooperation) and that evolutionary human life history theory and data from small-scale foraging societies are instrumental in generating predictions about these domains of social value and the cues associated with them. The chapter presents the foundation on which physical (and nonphysical) attractiveness across different domains of social value can most usefully be based and from which those conducting research on physical attractiveness could generate more specific adaptationist hypotheses and empirical tests.
Romantic relationships can have positive effects on health and reproductive fitness. Given that attractive potential alternative mates can pose a threat to romantic relationships, some researchers have proposed that partnered individuals discriminate opposite-sex individuals less along the physical attractiveness dimension than do unpartnered individuals. This effect is proposed to devalue attractive (i.e., high quality) alternative mates and help maintain romantic relationships. Here we investigated this issue by comparing the effects of men's attractiveness on partnered and unpartnered women's performance on two response measures for which attractiveness is known to be important: memory for face photographs (Study 1) and the reward value of faces (Study 2). Consistent with previous research, women's memory was poorer for face photographs of more attractive men (Study 1) and more attractive men's faces were more rewarding (Study 2). However, in neither study were these effects of attractiveness modulated by women's partnership status or partnered women's reported commitment to or happiness with their romantic relationship. These results do not support the proposal that partnered women discriminate potential alternative mates along the physical attractiveness dimension less than do unpartnered women.
Due to human biparental care, we might expect few differences in the characteristics that men and women find attractive in opposite-sex faces. Indeed, evidence shows that both men and women prefer opposite-sex faces with characteristics that are likely to signal current or long-term health, such as symmetry, averageness, and a healthy weight. However, while men have strong preferences for feminine female faces, women do not show the strong, consistent preferences for male masculinity that were initially predicted. Trade-off theory suggests that this may be due to male masculinity signaling both positive traits (e.g., health) and negative traits (e.g., low investment). Despite controversy about the exact mechanisms, trade-off theory has shown great utility in predicting the circumstances under which women prefer masculine male traits more or less.