Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 47, Issue 4, pp 1109–1117 | Cite as

Responsibility/Threat Overestimation Moderates the Relationship Between Contamination-Based Disgust and Obsessive–Compulsive Concerns About Sexual Orientation

  • Terence H. W. Ching
  • Monnica T. Williams
  • Jedidiah Siev
  • Bunmi O. Olatunji
Original Paper


Disgust has been shown to perform a “disease-avoidance” function in contamination fears. However, no studies have examined the relevance of disgust to obsessive–compulsive (OC) concerns about sexual orientation (e.g., fear of one’s sexual orientation transforming against one’s will, and compulsive avoidance of same-sex and/or gay or lesbian individuals to prevent that from happening). Therefore, we investigated whether the specific domain of contamination-based disgust (i.e., evoked by the perceived threat of transmission of essences between individuals) predicted OC concerns about sexual orientation, and whether this effect was moderated/amplified by obsessive beliefs, in evaluation of a “sexual orientation transformation-avoidance” function. We recruited 283 self-identified heterosexual college students (152 females, 131 males; mean age = 20.88 years, SD = 3.19) who completed three measures assessing disgust, obsessive beliefs, and OC concerns about sexual orientation. Results showed that contamination-based disgust (β = .17), responsibility/threat overestimation beliefs (β = .15), and their interaction (β = .17) each uniquely predicted OC concerns about sexual orientation, ts = 2.22, 2.50, and 2.90, ps < .05. Post hoc probing indicated that high contamination-based disgust accompanied by strong responsibility/threat overestimation beliefs predicted more severe OC concerns about sexual orientation, β = .48, t = 3.24, p < .001. The present study, therefore, provided preliminary evidence for a “sexual orientation transformation-avoidance” process underlying OC concerns about sexual orientation in heterosexual college students, which is facilitated by contamination-based disgust, and exacerbated by responsibility/threat overestimation beliefs. Treatment for OC concerns about sexual orientation should target such beliefs.


Contamination-based disgust Sexual orientation Obsessive–compulsive disorder 



The authors would like to thank Darlene Davis for development of the data collection instruments and assistance in the collection of data during the early stages of this project. The authors also thank Ghazel Tellawi, Joseph Slimowicz, Melissa Ellsworth, and Victoria Schlaudt for help with recruitment of participants. We would also like to thank Jessica Dowell for help with data entry and assisting with recruitment of participants.

Authors’ contributions

All authors conceptualized the research. The first author conducted the literature search, analyzed the data, and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All authors contributed to the final version of the manuscript.


This research was completely self-funded.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

This research was compliant with the ethical standards set by the institutional review board in which it was housed.


  1. Adams, T. G., & Lohr, J. M. (2012). Disgust mediates the relation between attentional shifting and contamination aversion. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 43, 975–980. Scholar
  2. Armstrong, T., Olatunji, B. O., Sarawgi, S., & Simmons, C. (2010). Orienting and maintenance of gaze in contamination fear: Biases for disgust and fear cues. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 48, 402–408. Scholar
  3. Athey, A. J., Elias, J. A., Crosby, J. M., Jenike, M. A., Pope, H. G., Jr., Hudson, J. I., et al. (2015). Reduced disgust propensity is associated with improvement in contamination/washing symptoms in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Journal of Obsessive–Compulsive and Related Disorders, 4, 20–24. Scholar
  4. Berle, D., & Phillips, E. S. (2006). Disgust and obsessive-compulsive disorder: An update. Psychiatry, 69, 228–238. Scholar
  5. Broderick, J., Grisham, J. R., & Weidemann, G. (2013). Disgust and fear responding in contamination-based obsessive–compulsive disorder during pictorial exposure. Behavior Therapy, 44, 27–38. Scholar
  6. Calkins, A. W., Berman, N. C., & Wilhelm, S. (2013). Recent advances in research on cognition and emotion in OCD: A review. Current Psychiatry Reports, 15, 357–363. Scholar
  7. Cisler, J. M., Brady, R. E., Olatunji, B. O., & Lohr, J. M. (2010). Disgust and obsessive beliefs in contamination-related OCD. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 34, 439–448. Scholar
  8. Cisler, J. M., Olatunji, B. O., & Lohr, J. M. (2009). Disgust, fear, and the anxiety disorders: A critical review. Clinical Psychology Review, 29, 34–46. Scholar
  9. Cougle, J. R., Lee, H.-J., Horowitz, J. D., Wolitzky-Taylor, K. B., & Telch, M. J. (2008). An exploration of the relationship between mental pollution and OCD symptoms. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 39, 340–353. Scholar
  10. David, B., Olatunji, B. O., Armstrong, T., Ciesielski, B. G., Bondy, C. L., & Broman-Fulks, J. (2009). Incremental specificity of disgust sensitivity in the prediction of obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms: Cross-sectional and prospective approaches. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 40, 533–543. Scholar
  11. Deacon, B., & Olatunji, B. O. (2007). Specificity of disgust sensitivity in the prediction of behavioral avoidance in contamination fear. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, 2110–2120. Scholar
  12. Foa, E. B., Huppert, J. D., Leiberg, S., Langner, R., Kichic, R., Hajcak, G., et al. (2002). The Obsessive–Compulsive Inventory: Development and validation of a short version. Psychological Assessment, 14, 485–496. Scholar
  13. Goldberg, R. L. (1984). Heterosexual panic. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 44, 209–211. Scholar
  14. Gordon, W. M. (2002). Sexual obsessions and OCD. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 17, 343–354. Scholar
  15. Hershfield, J., & Corboy, T. (2013). The mindfulness workbook for OCD: A guide to overcoming obsessions and compulsions using mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.Google Scholar
  16. Holmbeck, G. N. (2002). Post-hoc probing of significant moderational and mediational effects in studies of pediatric populations. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 27, 87–96. Scholar
  17. Inchausti, F., Delgado, A. R., & Prieto, G. (2015). Obsessive-compulsive disorder and its relationship with disgust vulnerability and conscientiousness. Psicothema, 27, 254–260. Scholar
  18. Inozu, M., Ulukut, F. O., Ergun, G., & Alcolado, G. M. (2014). The mediating role of disgust sensitivity and thought-action fusion between religiosity and obsessive compulsive symptoms. International Journal of Psychology, 49, 334–341. Scholar
  19. Jhung, K., Namkoong, K., Kang, J. I., Ha, R. Y., An, S. K., Kim, C.-H., et al. (2010). Perception bias of disgust in ambiguous facial expressions in obsessive–compulsive disorder. Psychiatry Research, 178, 126–131. Scholar
  20. Jónsson, H., Hougaard, E., & Bennedsen, B. E. (2011). Dysfunctional beliefs in group and individual cognitive behavioral therapy for obsessive compulsive disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 25, 483–489. Scholar
  21. Lee, M., Shafran, R., Burgess, C., Carpenter, J., Millard, E., & Thorpe, S. (2013). The induction of mental and contact contamination. Clinical Psychologist, 17, 9–16. Scholar
  22. Ludvik, D., Boschen, M. J., & Neumann, D. L. (2015). Effective behavioural strategies for reducing disgust in contamination-related OCD: A review. Clinical Psychology Review, 42, 116–129. Scholar
  23. Mason, E. C., & Richardson, R. (2012). Treating disgust in anxiety disorders. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 19, 180–194. Scholar
  24. Matchett, G., & Davey, G. C. (1991). A test of a disease-avoidance model of animal phobias. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 29, 91–94. Scholar
  25. McKay, D. (2006). Treating disgust reactions in contamination based obsessive-compulsive disorder. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 37, 53–59. Scholar
  26. Melli, G., Bulli, F., Carraresi, C., & Stopani, E. (2014). Disgust propensity and contamination-related OCD symptoms: The mediating role of mental contamination. Journal of Obsessive–Compulsive and Related Disorders, 3, 77–82. Scholar
  27. Melli, G., Moulding, R., Gelli, S., Chiorri, S., & Pinto, A. (2016). Assessing sexual orientation-related obsessions and compulsions in Italian heterosexual individuals: Development and validation of the Sexual Orientation Obsessive-Compulsive Scale (SO-OCS). Behavior Therapy, 47, 431–443. Scholar
  28. Oaten, M. J., Stevenson, R. J., & Case, T. I. (2009). Disgust as a disease-avoidance mechanism. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 303–321. Scholar
  29. Obsessive Compulsive Cognitions Working Group. (2005). Psychometric validation of the Obsessive Belief Questionnaire and Interpretation of Intrusions Inventory: Part 2: Factor analyses and testing of a brief version. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 43, 1527–1542. Scholar
  30. Olatunji, B. O., Ebesutani, C., Haidt, J., & Sawchuk, C. N. (2014). Specificity of disgust domains in the prediction of contamination anxiety and avoidance: A multimodal examination. Behavior Therapy, 45, 469–481. Scholar
  31. Olatunji, B. O., Haidt, J., McKay, D., & David, B. (2008). Core, animal reminder, and contamination disgust: Three kinds of disgust with distinct personality, behavioral, physiological, and clinical correlates. Journal of Research in Personality, 42, 1243–1259. Scholar
  32. Olatunji, B. O., Lohr, J. M., Sawchuk, C. N., & Tolin, D. F. (2007a). Multimodal assessment of disgust in contamination-related obsessive–compulsive disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, 263–276. Scholar
  33. Olatunji, B. O., Moretz, M. W., McKay, D., Bjorklund, F., de Jong, P. J., Haidt, J., et al. (2009a). Confirming the three-factor structure of the Disgust Scale-Revised in eight countries. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 40, 234–255. Scholar
  34. Olatunji, B. O., Moretz, M. W., Wolitzky-Taylor, K. B., McKay, D., McGrath, P. B., & Ciesielski, B. G. (2010). Disgust vulnerability and symptoms of contamination-based OCD: Descriptive tests of incremental specificity. Behavior Therapy, 41, 475–490. Scholar
  35. Olatunji, B. O., Sawchuk, C. N., Lohr, J. M., & de Jong, P. J. (2004). Disgust domains in the prediction of contamination fear. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 42, 93–104. Scholar
  36. Olatunji, B. O., Tart, C. D., Ciesielski, B. G., McGrath, P. B., & Smits, J. A. J. (2011). Specificity of disgust vulnerability in the distinction and treatment of OCD. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 45, 1236–1242. Scholar
  37. Olatunji, B. O., Williams, N. L., Tolin, D. F., Abramowitz, J. S., Sawchuk, C. N., Lohr, J. M., & Elwood, L. S. (2007b). The Disgust Scale: Item analysis, factor structure, and suggestions for refinement. Psychological Assessment, 19, 281–297. Scholar
  38. Olatunji, B. O., Wolitzky-Taylor, K. B., Willems, J., Lohr, J. M., & Armstrong, T. (2009b). Differential habituation of fear and disgust during repeated exposure to threat-relevant stimuli in contamination-based OCD: An analogue study. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 23, 118–123. Scholar
  39. Ponniah, K., Magiati, I., & Hollon, S. D. (2013). An update on the efficacy of psychological therapies in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder in adults. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, 2, 207–218. Scholar
  40. Rozin, P., Haidt, J., & McCauley, C. R. (2000). Disgust. In M. Lewis & J. M. Haviland-Jones (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (2nd ed., pp. 637–653). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  41. Starcevic, V., Berle, D., Brakoulias, V., Sammut, P., Moses, K., Milicevic, D., et al. (2011). The nature and correlates of avoidance in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 45, 871–879. Scholar
  42. Storch, E. A., Rasmussen, S. A., Price, L. H., Larson, M. J., Murphy, T. K., & Goodman, W. K. (2010). Development and psychometric evaluation of the Yale-Brown Obsessive–Compulsive Scale—second edition. Psychological Assessment, 22, 223–232. Scholar
  43. Teachman, B. A. (2006). Pathological disgust: In the thoughts, not the eye, of the beholder. Anxiety Stress and Coping, 19, 335–351. Scholar
  44. van den Hout, M. A., Engelhard, I. M., Toffolo, M. B. J., & van Uijen, S. L. (2011). Exposure plus response prevention versus exposure plus safety behaviours in reducing feelings of contamination, fear, danger and disgust. An extended replication of Rachman, Shafran, Radomsky & Zysk (2011). Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 42, 364–370. Scholar
  45. van Overveld, M., de Jong, P. F., Peters, M. L., & Schouten, E. (2011). The Disgust Scale-R: A valid and reliable index to investigate separate disgust domains? Personality and Individual Differences, 51, 325–330. Scholar
  46. Wilhelm, S., Berman, N. C., Keshaviah, A., Schwartz, R. A., & Steketee, G. (2015). Mechanisms of change in cognitive therapy for obsessive compulsive disorder: Role of maladaptive beliefs and schemas. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 65, 5–10. Scholar
  47. Williams, M. T. (2008). Homosexuality anxiety: A misunderstood form of OCD. In L. V. Sebeki (Ed.), Leading-edge health education issues (pp. 195–205). Happauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.Google Scholar
  48. Williams, M. T., Ching, T. H. W., Tellawi, G., Siev, J., Dowell, J., Schlaudt, V., et al. (2017). Assessing sexual orientation symptoms in obsessive-compulsive disorder: Development and validation of the Sexual Orientation Obsessions and Reactions Test (SORT). Behavior Therapy. Scholar
  49. Williams, M. T., Crozier, M., & Powers, M. B. (2011). Treatment of sexual orientation obsessions in obsessive-compulsive disorder using exposure and ritual prevention. Clinical Case Studies, 10, 53–66. Scholar
  50. Williams, M. T., & Farris, S. G. (2011). Sexual orientation obsessions in obsessive-compulsive disorder: Prevalence and correlates. Psychiatry Research, 187, 156–159. Scholar
  51. Williams, A. D., & Grisha, J. R. (2013). Cognitive bias modification (CBM) of obsessive compulsive beliefs. BMC Psychiatry, 13, 256–264. Scholar
  52. Williams, M. T., Slimowicz, J., Tellawi, G., & Wetterneck, C. (2014). Sexual orientation symptoms in obsessive compulsive disorder: Assessment and treatment with cognitive behavioral therapy. Directions in Psychiatry, 34, 37–50.Google Scholar
  53. Williams, M. T., Tellawi, G., Davis, D. M., & Slimowicz, J. (2015a). Assessment and treatment of sexual orientation obsessions in obsessive–compulsive disorder. Australian Clinical Psychologist, 1, 12–18.Google Scholar
  54. Williams, M. T., Wetterneck, C., Tellawi, G., & Duque, G. (2015b). Domains of distress among people with sexual orientation obsessions. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 783–789. Scholar
  55. Woody, S. R., & Tolin, D. F. (2002). The relationship between disgust sensitivity and avoidant behavior: Studies of clinical and nonclinical samples. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 16, 543–559. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Terence H. W. Ching
    • 1
  • Monnica T. Williams
    • 1
  • Jedidiah Siev
    • 2
  • Bunmi O. Olatunji
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Psychological SciencesUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologySwarthmore CollegeSwarthmoreUSA
  3. 3.Department of Psychological SciencesVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations