Children's Response to Adult Disgust Elicitors

Development and Acquisition

Richard J. Stevenson*, Megan J. Oaten, Trevor I. Case, Betty M. Repacholi, Paul Wagland

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    83 Citations (Scopus)


    Little is known about when or how different disgust elicitors are acquired. In Study 1, parents of children (0-18 years old) rated how their child would react to 22 disgust elicitors. Different developmental patterns were identified for core, animal, and sociomoral elicitors, with core elicitors emerging first. In Study 2, children (2-16 years old) were exposed alone and then with their parent to a range of elicitors derived from Study 1. Self-report, behavioral, and facial expression data were obtained along with measures of contagion, conservation, and contamination. Convergent evidence supported the developmental patterns reported in Study 1. Evidence for parent-child transmission was also observed, with parents of young children emoting more disgust to their offspring and showing greater behavioral avoidance. Moreover, child reactivity to animal and sociomoral elicitors and contamination correlated with parental responsiveness. Finally, young children who failed to demonstrate contagion and conservation knowledge were as reactive to core elicitors and contamination as children of the same age who demonstrated such knowledge. These findings are interpreted within an evolutionary framework in which core disgust responses are acquired early to promote avoidance of pathogens.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)165-177
    Number of pages13
    JournalDevelopmental Psychology
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2010

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