Making your skin crawl: The role of tactile sensitivity in disease avoidance

David F Hunt, Grace Cannell, Nicholas A Davenhill, Stephanie A Horsford, Diana S Fleischman, Justin H Park

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

21 Citations (Scopus)
478 Downloads (Pure)


Mounting evidence indicates that animals, including humans, have evolved a behavioral disease-avoidance system designed to facilitate the detection and avoidance of sources of pathogens, and that this system interacts with physiological defenses. The skin acts as an important anatomical barrier, yet little research has investigated the role of tactile sensitivity in disease avoidance. Increased tactile sensitivity in the presence of potential sources of pathogens may facilitate prophylactic behaviors such as self-grooming. Across multiple studies, we tested the hypothesis that the induction of disgust—the key emotion underlying disease avoidance—may lead to greater tactile sensitivity compared to control conditions. A nonsignificant trend was found in a pilot study, which was replicated (and found to be significant) in Studies 1 and 2. To our knowledge, these results are the first to demonstrate disgust-induced changes in tactile sensitivity, and they contribute to the growing literature on the integrated evolved defenses against infectious disease.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-45
JournalBiological Psychology
Early online date3 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Structured keywords

  • Cognitive Science
  • Social Cognition


  • Behavioral immune system
  • Disease avoidance
  • Disgust
  • threat
  • tactile sensitivity


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