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Assessing People’s Interest in Images with Violent or Disgusting Content: a Functional-Evolutionary Analysis

Abstract

This study investigated variation in viewing time in response to different types of images with violent and/or disgusting content. We hypothesized that people should exhibit aversion to and avoidance of disgusting images and/or interest in and attraction to images of violence, especially those that represent a potential threat to them. Study participants were 101 White male and female college students. They viewed 60 images on a computer monitor and could control, within certain limits, their viewing time for each image. Viewing time was lowest for disgusting non-violent images, highest for violent non-disgusting images, and intermediate for images that were both violent and disgusting. Images of animal to human violence had higher viewing time than images of human to animal violence, and images of male-male violence in which an outgroup individual was the perpetrator of violence against an ingroup individual had the highest viewing time of all images in which we manipulated the ingroup/outgroup identity of perpetrator and victim. Images of outgroup-ingroup violence also had higher viewing time than images of accidental self-inflicted violence. Female participants had lower viewing time than male participants across most image types, but variation in viewing time in relation to the content of the image was largely similar in men and women. The results of our study are consistent with our hypothesis that differences in viewing time devoted to images with disgusting and violent content reflect functionally adaptive responses to different cues of danger: presence of pathogens vs threat of physical violence. Further research on responses to disgusting and nondisgusting images of violence may enhance our understanding of the role of emotions in the regulation of violent behavior and responses to displays of violence.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by intramural funds from The University of Chicago. We thank the NIMH Center for the Study of Emotion and Attention at the University of Florida for permission to use images from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS). We also thank Chris L. Hiestand for his help and support with the development of the application software.

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Correspondence to Dario Maestripieri.

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Ibarra, F., Maestripieri, D. Assessing People’s Interest in Images with Violent or Disgusting Content: a Functional-Evolutionary Analysis. Evolutionary Psychological Science 3, 133–140 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40806-016-0082-4

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Keywords

  • Violence
  • Threat
  • Disgust
  • Visual stimuli
  • Avoidance
  • Adaptation