Perceptual and cognitive determinants of tactile disgust

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    Tactile cues are said to be potent elicitors of disgust and reliable markers of disease. Despite this, no previous study had explored what the full range of tactile properties are that cue disgust, nor how interpretation of these sensations influences disgust. To answer these questions, participants were asked to touch nine objects, selected to cover the range of tactile properties, and evaluate their sensory, affective, and risk-based characteristics (primarily how sick they thought the object would make them). Object contact was manipulated in four ways, with participants randomly allocated to corresponding groups-one that could see the objects (i.e., the control) and three that could not (i.e., the blind groups). To manipulate disease risk interpretation of the objects, labelling was used on the blind groups, with one receiving Disgust-Labels, one True-Labels and one no labels. Disgust was strongly associated with sticky and wet textures, and moderately with viscous, cold, and lumpy textures, suggesting adherence-to-skin may predict disgust. The participants in the disgust-labelled condition had the highest disgust ratings, and this was mediated by their increased sickness belief and fear of the objects. Object identification was poor when labels or visual cues were absent. Our findings suggest that tactile disgust may reflect a bottom-up sensory component-skin adhesion-moderated by judgements of disease-related threat.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2705-2716
    Number of pages12
    JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
    Issue number11
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


    • disgust
    • tactile properties
    • interpretive frame
    • disease risk


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