Examination of responses involved in contamination aversion based on threat type

Melissa Rouel, Richard J. Stevenson, Evelyn Smith

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    1 Citation (Scopus)


    There is evidence that different types of contaminants produce different responses and have different motivations for avoidance. Contaminants directly associated with disease (direct contaminants) are motivated by disgust avoidance, whereas contaminants indirectly associated with disease (indirect contaminants) and contaminants associated with harmful substances (harm contaminants) are motivated by harm avoidance and threat estimations. This study aims to confirm this distinction between contaminant types and examine the role of cognitive load, awareness and time on processing these threats. One hundred and four participants completed three chain of contagion tasks with direct, indirect, and harm contaminants. Cognitive load, awareness of contamination and time were manipulated during the tasks. Consistent with previous findings, direct contaminants produced stronger disgust responses, while harm and indirect contaminants produced stronger threat estimations. Increasing cognitive load did not impact processing of any type of contaminant. There was evidence that a time delay reduced the spread of contagion for all contaminants. This highlights the importance of time in altering the perception of contamination threat. Implications and future research directions are discussed.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)83-106
    Number of pages24
    JournalJournal of Social and Clinical Psychology
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


    • contamination aversion
    • disgust
    • threat estimation
    • cognitive load


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