Macquarie University
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Is 'Sexual' a Sub-type of Disgust, or is it a Separate Basic Emotion?

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posted on 2022-03-28, 16:12 authored by Kate Hardwick
Disgust is a crucial emotion that guides a variety of avoidance and rejection behaviours in humans. These avoidance behaviours function to keep us safe from potentially harmful stimuli. A current adaptationist theory proposes three distinct sub-types of disgust based on their unique adaptive function, called the 'Three Domains of Disgust,' (pathogen, moral and sexual) (Tybur et al, 2013). The function of pathogen disgust is to maintain physical health through the avoidance of infectious and disease-causing agents; the function of moral disgust is to maintain group cohesion by avoiding or punishing moral transgressors and the function of sexual disgust promotes reproductive success through the avoidance of unfit mating opportunities. The theory holds that moral and sexual disgust co-opted pathogen disgust mechanisms to solve new adaptive problems. According to discrete emotion theory, subtypes of a basic emotion share: neural profiles, physiological and behavioural signatures. Therefore, if moral and sexual disgust co-opted pathogen disgust mechanisms, then common behavioural and neural mechanisms should emerge in response to stimuli in the three domains. In this thesis, I undertake four experiments to explore the behavioural and neural correlates of the three domains of disgust. I use linguistic stimuli and manipulate the semantic properties of sentences and words such that each category induces disgust, although still resembling its distinct sub-type. Overall, the results from each experiment reveal that the sexual category differs from both pathogen and moral categories. I tentatively propose that the sexual response is not a form of disgust but could be considered a distinct discrete emotion.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1: introduction and literature review -- chapter 2: priming the three domains of disgust affects lexical decisions in the sexual domain -- chapter 3: the emotional stroop reveals that 'sexual' is more 'taboo' than 'disgusting' -- chapter 4: the neural correlates of words related to pathogen, moral and sexual disgust -- chapter 5: disgust related words evoke different subjective feelings in the body -- chapter 6: general discussion -- appendix.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 174-176

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Cognitive Science

Department, Centre or School

Department of Cognitive Science

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Mark Williams

Additional Supervisor 1

Anina Rich


Copyright Kate Hardwick 2018. Copyright disclaimer:




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