The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on disgust sensitivity

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There have been few tests of whether exposure to naturalistic or experimental disease-threat inductions alter disgust sensitivity, although it has been hypothesized that this should occur as part of disgust’s disease avoidance function. In the current study, we asked Macquarie university students to complete measures of disgust sensitivity, perceived vulnerability to disease (PVD), hand hygiene behavior and impulsivity, during Australia’s Covid-19 pandemic self-quarantine (lockdown) period, in March/April 2020. These data were then compared to earlier Macquarie university, and other local, and overseas student cohorts, to determine if disgust sensitivity and the other measures, were different in the lockdown sample. The most consistent finding in the lockdown sample was of higher core disgust sensitivity (Cohen’s d = 0.4), with some evidence of greater germ aversion on the PVD, and an increase in hand and food-related hygiene, but with little change in impulsivity. The consistency with which greater core disgust sensitivity was observed, suggests exposure to a highly naturalistic disease threat is a plausible cause. Greater disgust sensitivity may have several functional benefits (e.g., hand and food-related hygiene) and may arise implicitly from the threat posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Original languageEnglish
Article number600761
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2020. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • disgust
  • infection
  • avoidance
  • hand hygiene
  • germ aversion

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