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Forever Yuck: Oculomotor Avoidance of Disgusting Stimuli Resists Habituation
DALMAIJER, E.S., Lee, A., Leiter, R., Brown, Z. & Armstrong, T.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 150(8), 1598-1611
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Disgust is an adaptation forged under the selective pressure of pathogens. Yet disgust may cause problems in contemporary societies due to its propensity for “false positives” and resistance to corrective information. Here, we investigate whether disgust, as revealed by oculomotor avoidance, might be reduced through the non-cognitive process of habituation. In each of three experiments, we repeatedly exposed participants to the same pair of images, one disgusting and one neutral, and recorded gaze. Experiment 1 (N=104) found no decline in oculomotor avoidance of the disgusting image after 24 prolonged exposures. Experiment 2 (N=99) replicated this effect and demonstrated its uniqueness to disgust. In Experiment 3 (N=93), we provided a gaze contingent reward to ensure perceptual contact with the disgusting image. Participants looked almost exclusively at the disgusting image for 5 minutes, but resumed baseline levels of oculomotor avoidance once the reward ceased. These findings underscore the challenge of reducing disgust.
Data for this project is available at: