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]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Recury says:

    “If we told someone, ‘You didn’t take the cookie because it touched the kitty litter,’ they would say, ‘That’s ridiculous.'”

    Did Larry David do this study?

  2. B says:

    I don’t care if the cookies touched the kitty litter, but I do care if they touched the laundry soap.

  3. TinaB says:

    As long as there isn’t a bag of manure in my cart, pass me the cookies!

  4. RandomHookup says:

    I find passing out cookies is a great way to meet teenage girls!

  5. chrisgoh says:

    These days, I might be more concerned if it touched the cat food rather than the cat litter.

  6. Ass_Cobra says:

    “Whatever the severity of the taint, the result was predictable. “

    What if the cookies touch the taint? That’s how you find the freaky shoppers.

    Okay, I’m out of 7th grade…barely.

  7. Wormfather says:

    @chrisgoh: you beat me to the china joke. I now assume that anything on this site having to do with food NOT being consumed will have a china link in it somewhere.

  8. c26nyc says:

    I’d rather have the cat litter than drippy red bloody meat seeping into my regular food items.

  9. Canadian Impostor says:

    One time while walking home from a bar in Boston at 2am I found a bagel in the middle of Beacon St.

    I would have eaten the whole thing but it wasn’t cinnamon raisin so I wasn’t that interested.

  10. Walkallovaya says:

    The presence of kitty litter would make me distrustful of the marketers. As a secondary result I’d not be eating their cookies.

  11. robotprom says:

    I guess I would be in the minority for this study, since all I seem to buy at Sam’s Club is cat litter and food, and they both touch in the cart.

  12. virgilstar says:

    I was going to respond to this post earlier, but I waited, to put some space in between my comment and the nasty picture of kitty litter at the top of the page. Ewwww.

  13. Tallanvor says:

    Mm… Cookies…

    @virgilstar: Eh, Tidy Cats isn’t bad litter. It’s better than the store/generic brands that tend to not clump well and have tons of dust (99.9% dust free my rear)!

  14. gafpromise says:

    So what about the infamous litter box cake? What does this say about people who eat that?

  15. DCvision says:

    yum…. cookies…

  16. legotech says:

    When I was a CSM at a grocery store, we had a customer pitch an absolute FIT because our clerk had put the box of dog treats in the same bag as a box of crackers.

    People are strange.

  17. synergy says:

    Were they handing the cookies to people wearing gloves? Because I wouldn’t take it if they were handing it to me with a bare hand. If the cookie itself had touched the bag of kitty litter, I wouldn’t be so concerned with the litter as much as what that bag’s been touched with. Did it sit on a pallet that was on some floor somewhere? Was it handled by store employees without clean hands/gloves?

    If it’s just the BAGS touched each other, then people need to learn to love cookies more and get over the OCD!

  18. synergy says:

    @legotech: I get mad because I’m giving 6 different bags for the 10 small items I bought. Throw it all together I say! Unless it’s leaky, bloody meat, I don’t care!

  19. Little Miss Moneybags says:

    @robotprom: I can’t stop laughing–I initially read your comment as “since all I seem to buy at Sam’s Club is cat litter and cat food and they both touch the CAT”, and I was like, “well, yeah, of course they do…OH.”

    Anyway, I just experienced this last weekend. I bought a toilet bowl brush at Target for my new apartment, and was really squicked out that the cashier put it in the same bag as my Crystal Light. I logically realized how silly this reacton was and later made myself hold it by the brush end while I took it out of the packaging…and then had to go wash my hands. :p I don’t know what causes the human reaction to clean things that will be icky later, but I can totally see the reactions the study is talking about.

  20. demonradio says:

    “When we read National Geographic we don’t touch the pages that have pictures of gross bugs.”

    I’m glad I’m not the only one. :(

  21. jaredharley says:

    Now THAT’S good litter! It says hard-clumping, and it MEANS hard-clumping. That’s the only kind we use, and it works very well. However, we find the paper bags to be cheaper than the big bins.

  22. spanky says:

    I once washed my hands for about five minutes because I saw a dead mouse.

  23. Wow. I am a total germophobe, but stuff touching in a cart wouldn’t freak me out. Although I agree with the drippy meat peeps. And milk cartons that are drippy.

  24. WhereForArt says:

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one that hates to touch magazine articles featuring photos of gross bugs. When I was little, my brothers would torture me by sneaking up and shoving books with pictures of spiders in my face – children are cruel! You’d think I’d have gotten over it by now… :)

  25. SexCpotatoes says:

    Hey, if there were E Coli on the cookie, and it touched the kitty litter, the kitty litter may absorb it. Good enough for me! I use the kitty litter in my driveway, to soak up the oil my truck leaks.