Microbes, Mating, and Morality: Individual Differences in Three Functional Domains of Disgust

Joshua M. Tybur, Debra Lieberman, Vladas Griskevicius

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

789 Scopus citations


What is the function of disgust? Whereas traditional models have suggested that disgust serves to protect the self or neutralize reminders of our animal nature, an evolutionary perspective suggests that disgust functions to solve 3 qualitatively different adaptive problems related to pathogen avoidance, mate choice, and social interaction. The authors investigated this 3-domain model of disgust across 4 studies and examined how sensitivity to these functional domains relates to individual differences in other psychological constructs. Consistent with their predictions, factor analyses demonstrated that disgust sensitivity partitions into domains related to pathogens, sexuality, and morality. Further, sensitivity to the 3 domains showed predictable differentiation based on sex, perceived vulnerability to disease, psychopathic tendencies, and Big 5 personality traits. In exploring these 3 domains of disgust, the authors introduce a new measure of disgust sensitivity. Appreciation of the functional heterogeneity of disgust has important implications for research on individual differences in disgust sensitivity, emotion, clinical impairments, and neuroscience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)103-122
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2009

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2012 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • disgust
  • emotions
  • evolutionary psychology
  • individual differences


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