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Emotion. 2009 Feb;9(1):107-12. doi: 10.1037/a0014113.

Children's extension of disgust to physical and moral events.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA.


Adults use the terms revolting, gross, and disgusting to describe entities and actions, such as feces, rotten food, and sex with corpses, which elicit a certain visceral response. But adults also apply such expressions to certain sociomoral transgressions, such as cheating on one's spouse or stealing from the poor. Here, the authors explore whether young children associate disgust with physical and moral events by endorsing either verbal or facial expressions of disgust. Results indicate that children in Grades K, 2, and 4 (N = 167) label moral violations "disgusting" more often than nondisgusting physical acts or neutral negative acts but less often than physically disgusting acts. Likewise, children associate facial expressions of disgust with moral violations. These findings are discussed in the context of different theories about the relationship between physical disgust and moral disgust.

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