, Volume 44, Issue 2, pp 101-113

The disgust-promotes-disposal effect

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Abstract

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.