Disease-avoidant behaviour and its consequences

Daria Kouznetsova, Richard J. Stevenson, Megan J. Oaten, Trevor I. Case

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    14 Citations (Scopus)


    Medical conditions that are non-contagious, but that appear contagious, seem to result in the sufferer being avoided. Error management theory (EMT), suggests that such false alarms occur because the cost of infection poses a greater threat to ones fitness than avoidance. Study 1 attempted to demonstrate a disease-related false alarm effect by asking participants, to evaluate a series of vignettes, featuring people with infectious diseases, noninfectious diseases that looked infectious and non-infectious diseases that did not. Judgements of contracting infection under varying levels of contact, and desire to avoid were obtained. Consistent with EMT, a false alarm effect was evident. Study 2 examined the importance of the face as a key indicator of real and apparent infection, by determining whether facial symptoms result in a greater desire to avoid people with infectious and noninfectious diseases. Consistent with expectation, participants reported a greater desire to avoid people with facially displayed symptoms. Together, these results support the idea that humans have evolved a general tendency to avoid individuals with disease signs, especially if displayed upon the face. One consequence is that where a facially displayed disease sign persists, even if known to be benign, its bearer will experience chronic avoidance.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)491-506
    Number of pages16
    JournalPsychology and Health
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2012


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