A feel for disgust: Tactile cues to pathogen presence

Robert E. Oum, Debra Lieberman, Alison Aylward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


One function of disgust is to act as a pathogen-avoidance system preventing contact with substances harbouring disease-causing organisms. Avoiding pathogens, however, requires systems for their detection. Whereas previous research on disgust has focused on visual and olfactory detection cues, one largely overlooked modality is touch. Here we examine whether tactile cues play a role in pathogen detection and activate the disgust response. Participants briefly touched and then rated stimuli varying along dimensions predicted to correlate with pathogen presence: moisture, temperature, and consistency. Results show that participants rated wet stimuli and stimuli resembling biological consistencies as more disgusting than dry stimuli and stimuli resembling inanimate consistencies, respectively. No main effect for temperature was found. We report on predicted interactions, the relationship between disgust ratings and perceived infection risk, and individual differences. Taken together, these data suggest that touch is an important modality providing information for disgust-related processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)717-725
Number of pages9
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 1 2011


  • Disease avoidance
  • Disgust
  • Pathogens
  • Touch

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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