How Disgust Influences Health Purity Attitudes
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Food and health regulations are increasingly being pushed onto the political agenda, with rising concerns about genetically modified foods, obesity rates, and vaccination. Public beliefs and attitudes on these issues often conflict with the scientific evidence, yet we know relatively little about what influences opinion on these issues. The public lacks clear partisan cues, and many food and health attitudes cut across the ideological spectrum. We argue that these issues represent new ‘purity’ attitudes that are driven by the emotion of disgust. Across three studies, both by measuring individuals’ trait disgust sensitivity and experimentally inducing an emotional state of disgust, we demonstrate the impact of disgust on food and health policy attitudes. Our results show that greater sensitivity to disgust is associated with support for organic foods, opposition to genetically modified foods, and anti-vaccination beliefs. However, we find only limited evidence that experimentally manipulated disgust affects attitudes toward genetically modified and organic foods. Overall, our results demonstrate that disgust plays an important role in attitudes regarding public health and broadens our understanding of purity attitudes.
KeywordsDisgust Emotion Health Purity Food Natural Organic Vaccination
The authors would like to thank the Duke Initiative on Survey Methodology for funding support and Antoine Banks, Stanley Feldman, Shana Gadarian, Jennifer Jerit, Rick Matland, and Spencer Piston for helpful comments.
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