Disgust Sensitivity, Obesity Stigma, and Gender: Contamination Psychology Predicts Weight Bias for Women, Not Men




Recent research has established a link between disgust sensitivity and stigmatizing reactions to various groups, including obese individuals. However, previous research has overlooked disgust's multiple evolved functions. Here, we investigated whether the link between disgust sensitivity and obesity stigma is specific to pathogen disgust, or whether sexual disgust and moral disgust—two separate functional domains—also relate to negative attitudes toward obese individuals. Additionally, we investigated whether sex differences exist in the manner disgust sensitivity predicts obesity stigma, whether the sexes differ across the subtypes of obesity bias independent of disgust sensitivity, and last, the association between participants' BMI and different subtypes of obesity stigma. In study 1 (N = 92), we established that obesity elicits pathogen, sexual, and moral disgust. In study 2, we investigated the relationship between these types of disgust sensitivity and obesity stigma. Participants (N = 387) reported their level of disgust toward various pathogen, sexual, and moral acts and their attitudes toward obese individuals. For women, but not men, increased pathogen disgust sensitivity predicted more negative attitudes toward obese individuals. Men reported more negative general attitudes toward obese individuals whereas women reported greater fear of becoming obese. The sexes also differed in how their own BMI related to the subtypes of obesity stigma. These findings indicate that pathogen disgust sensitivity plays a role in obesity stigma, specifically for women. Defining the scope of disgust's activation in response to obesity and its relationship with other variables can help identify possible mechanisms for understanding and ultimately alleviating prejudice and discrimination.