Journal of Risk and Uncertainty

, Volume 44, Issue 2, pp 101-113

First online:

The disgust-promotes-disposal effect

  • Seunghee HanAffiliated withChung-Ang University
  • , Jennifer S. LernerAffiliated withHarvard University
  • , Richard ZeckhauserAffiliated withJohn F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University Email author 

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Individuals tend toward status quo bias: preferring existing options over new ones. There is a countervailing phenomenon: Humans naturally dispose of objects that disgust them, such as foul-smelling food. But what if the source of disgust is independent of the object? We induced disgust via a film clip to see if participants would trade away an item (a box of unidentified office supplies) for a new item (alternative unidentified box). Such “incidental disgust” strongly countered status quo bias. Disgusted people exchanged their present possession 51% of the time compared to 32% for people in a neutral state. Thus, disgust promotes disposal. A second experiment tested whether a warning about this tendency would diminish it. It did not. These results indicate a robust disgust-promotes-disposal effect. Because these studies presented real choices with tangible rewards, their findings have implications for everyday choices and raise caution about the effectiveness of warnings about biases.


Disgust Status quo bias Decision making Disposal Emotion

JEL Classifications

D03 C93 D81