The Science of Disgust

Would you be less likely to eat a cookie that had touched a package of kitty litter while in a shopping cart? A clean, sealed package? Some scientists say you would, and that information is of use to marketers. From Time:

Any food that touched something perceived to be disgusting became immediately less desirable itself, though all of the products were in their original wrapping. The appeal of the food fell even if the two products were merely close together; an inch seemed to be the critical distance. “It makes no sense if you think about it,” says Fitzsimons. More irrationally still, the subjects were less comfortable with a transparent package than an opaque one, as if it somehow had greater power to leak contamination. Whatever the severity of the taint, the result was predictable.

“We’d take cookies out of the basket and offer them to the subjects,” says Fitzsimons, “and we had some really tempting-looking cookies.” No takers. Moreover, he says, “everything we did suggested that these feelings were below the level of awareness. If we told someone, ‘You didn’t take the cookie because it touched the kitty litter,’ they would say, ‘That’s ridiculous.'”

The article goes on to say that parents might be less likely to buy baby food that was too close to diapers and that men might be more inclined to buy a shirt that had just been touched by an attractive woman.

We don’t doubt these results at all. When we read National Geographic we don’t touch the pages that have pictures of gross bugs. Is this the stupidest behavior in the history of the universe? Yes. Does knowing that change it? Nope. —MEGHANN MARCO

The Science of Disgust [Time]

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