Exploring the emotion of disgust: differences in smelling and feeling

Lorenzo Stafford, Diana Fleischman, Nicholas Le Her, Thomas Hummel

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Disgust evolved to motivate humans away from disease cues and may heighten discernment of these cues. Disease cues are often best perceived through our sense of smell, however very few studies have examined how eliciting disgust influences smell intensity or valence. In two novel experiments we investigated how domains of disgust induction influence odor perception. In experiment 1 participants (n = 90) were randomly allocated to one of two kinds of Disgust Induction (DI): Pathogen (DI-P), Moral (DI-M) or a Control (DI-C), followed by an evaluation of three affectively distinct odors (disgust-related, neutral, liked). Using a modified procedure in experiment 2, participants (n = 70) were again randomly assigned to one of the three disgust induction conditions, but here they evaluated one (disgust-related) odor during disgust induction. In experiment 2 we also measured feelings of disgust and anger. In experiment 1, surprisingly, we found overall ratings of odor disgust were lower in the DI-P compared to other groups, whereas in experiment 2, odor disgust was higher in the DI-P versus the DI-M/DI-C conditions, which also differed from each other. We also found that whereas feelings of disgust were higher in DI-P, in contrast, anger was higher for those individuals in the DI-M condition. These findings suggest that compared to a Control condition, inducing state Pathogen and Moral disgust lead to higher perceived odor disgust, whereas feelings of disgust/anger yield divergent effects. The work here also demonstrates that methodologies utilizing odor perception (disgust) can be a useful addition to measuring changes in state disgust.
Original languageEnglish
Article number9
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2018


  • disgust
  • emotions
  • evolutionay psychology


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