Fast-forwarding disgust conditioning: US pre-exposure facilitates the acquisition of oculomotor avoidance

  • Thomas ArmstrongEmail author
  • Mira Engel
  • Trevor Press
  • Anneka Sonstroem
  • Julian Reed
Original Paper


During human development, disgust is acquired to a broad range of stimuli, from rotting food to moral transgressions. Disgust’s expansion surely involves associative learning, yet little is known about Pavlovian disgust conditioning. The present study examined conditioned disgust responding as revealed by oculomotor avoidance, the tendency to look away from offensive stimuli. In two experiments, oculomotor avoidance was acquired to a neutral image associated with a disgusting image. However, to our surprise, participants initially dwelled on disgusting images, avoiding them only after multiple exposures. In Experiment 1, this “rubbernecking” response delayed oculomotor avoidance of the associated neutral image. In Experiment 2, we exhausted rubbernecking prior to conditioning by repeatedly exposing participants to the disgusting images. This procedure elicited earlier oculomotor avoidance of the associated neutral stimulus, essentially fast-forwarding conditioning. These findings reveal competing motivational tendencies elicited by disgust stimuli that complicate associative disgust learning.


Disgust Conditioning Eye movements Morbid curiosity Interest 



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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyWhitman CollegeWalla WallaUSA

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