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Emotion. 2008 Oct;8(5):613-27. doi: 10.1037/a0013435.

Moral hypervigilance: the influence of disgust sensitivity in the moral domain.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Macquarie University, North Ryde, New South Wales, Australia.


Evidence exists that immoral behavior can elicit disgust. The authors thus proposed that highly disgust-sensitive individuals would be particularly repelled by exposure to transgressors and, consequently, would think and behave in ways aimed at reducing the risk of such exposure occurring--a syndrome the authors call moral hypervigilance. To examine these ideas, the authors began in Study 1 by testing the notion that people are disgusted by moral deviants. Evidence was found that participants exposed to descriptions of criminals experienced disgust. Across 2 further studies, disgust sensitivity (DS) was found to be associated with phenomena indicative of moral hypervigilance. In Study 2, mock jurors high on DS were biased toward conviction. In Study 3, DS predicted several hypothesized outcomes: higher estimates of the probability that suspects described in crime vignettes were culpable; a proclivity to attribute evilness to, and recommend lengthy sentences for, criminals; and inflated perceptions of community crime levels.

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