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Behav Neurosci. 2014 Feb;128(1):20-8. doi: 10.1037/a0035468.

Verbal priming and taste sensitivity make moral transgressions gross.

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Brown University.


The aims of the present study were to assess whether: (a) visceral and moral disgust share a common oral origin (taste); (b) moral transgressions that are also viscerally involving are evaluated accordingly as a function of individual differences in taste sensitivity; (c) verbal priming interacts with taste sensitivity to alter how disgust is experienced in moral transgressions; and (d) whether gender moderates these effects. Standard tests of disgust sensitivity, a questionnaire developed for this research assessing different types of moral transgressions (nonvisceral, implied-visceral, visceral) with the terms "angry" and "grossed-out," and a taste sensitivity test of 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) were administered to 102 participants. Results confirmed past findings that the more sensitive to PROP a participant was the more disgusted they were by visceral, but not moral, disgust elicitors. Importantly, the findings newly revealed that taste sensitivity had no bearing on evaluations of moral transgressions, regardless of their visceral nature, when "angry" was the emotion primed. However, when "grossed-out" was primed for evaluating moral violations, the more intense PROP tasted to a participant the more "grossed-out" they were by all transgressions. Women were generally more disgust sensitive and morally condemning than men, but disgust test, transgression type, and priming scale modulated these effects. The present findings support the proposition that moral and visceral disgust do not share a common oral origin, but show that linguistic priming can transform a moral transgression into a viscerally repulsive event and that susceptibility to this priming varies as a function of an individual's sensitivity to the origins of visceral disgust-bitter taste.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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