Long-term disgust habituation with limited generalisation in care home workers

Charlotte Edgar, Faye Chan, Thomas Armstrong, Edwin S. Dalmaijer*

*Corresponding author for this work

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


Countless workers handle bodily effluvia and body envelope violations every working day, and consequentially face deeply unpleasant levels of disgust. Understanding if and how they adapt can help inform policies to improve worker satisfaction and reduce staff turnover. So far, limited evidence exist that self-reported disgust is reduced (or lower to begin with) among those employed in high-disgust environments. However, it is unclear if this is due to demand effects or translates into real behavioural changes. Here, we tested healthcare assistants (N = 32) employed in UK care homes and a control sample (N = 50). We replicated reduced self-reported pathogen disgust sensitivity in healthcare workers compared to controls. We also found it negatively correlated with career duration, suggesting long-term habituation. Furthermore, we found that healthcare assistants showed no behavioural disgust avoidance on a web-based preferential looking task (equivalent to eye tracking). Surprisingly, this extended to disgust elicitors found outside care homes, suggesting generalisation of disgust habituation. While we found no difference between bodily effluvia (core disgust) and body envelope violations (gore disgust), generalisation did not extend to other domains: self-reported sexual and moral disgust sensitivity were not different between healthcare assistants and the control group, nor was there a correlation with career duration. In sum, our work confirms that people in high-frequency disgust employment are less sensitive to pathogen disgust. Crucially, we provide preliminary evidence that this is due to a process of long-term habituation with generalisation to disgust-elicitors within the pathogen domain, but not beyond it.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0299429
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4 April
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 Edgar et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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