I've seen enough! Prolonged and repeated exposure to disgusting stimuli increases oculomotor avoidance

Thomas Armstrong*, Jeremy G Stewart, Edwin S Dalmaijer, Megan Rowe, Siri Danielson, Mira Engel, Brooklynn Bailey, Matthew Morris

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

Abstract

Disgust motivates avoidance of stimuli associated with pathogens. Although disgust primarily inhibits oral and epidermal contact, it may also inhibit perceptual contact, particularly given the outsize role of sensory qualities in eliciting disgust. To examine perceptual avoidance of disgust, we presented images of bodily products or spoiled food paired with neutral images for 12-s trials and recorded eye movements (Experiment 1; N = 127). We found that, overall, these disgusting images were not visually avoided compared to neutral images. However, viewing of disgusting images decreased with prolonged (within-trial) and repeated (between-trial) exposure, and these trends were predicted by self-reported disgust to the images. In Experiment 2 (N = 84), we replicated Experiment 1 with a novel set of disgusting images, as well as other unpleasant image categories (suicide, threat) and pleasant images. We found that disgusting stimuli were viewed less than the other unpleasant image categories, and we again found that viewing of disgusting images decreased with prolonged and repeated exposure. Further, we replicated the finding that disgust ratings predicted decreasing viewing of disgusting images, but only for prolonged exposure (within-trial). Unexpectedly, we found that disgust ratings predicted a similar pattern of decreasing viewing for the suicide and threat images as well. These findings suggest that disgust inhibits perceptual contact, but in competition with motivational processes that steer attention toward pathogen threats. We discuss the implications for measuring disgust with eye tracking. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish
JournalEmotion
Early online date30 Nov 2020
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Nov 2020

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