Pathogen disgust sensitivity protects against infection in a high pathogen environment

Tara J. Cepon-Robins, Aaron D. Blackwell, Theresa E. Gildner, Melissa A. Liebert, Samuel S. Urlacher, Felicia C. Madimenos, Geeta N. Eick, J. Josh Snodgrass, Lawrence S. Sugiyama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations

Abstract

Disgust is hypothesized to be an evolved emotion that functions to regulate the avoidance of pathogen-related stimuli and behaviors. Individuals with higher pathogen disgust sensitivity (PDS) are predicted to be exposed to and thus infected by fewer pathogens, though no studies have tested this directly. Furthermore, PDS is hypothesized to be locally calibrated to the types of pathogens normally encountered and the fitness-related costs and benefits of infection and avoidance. Market integration (the degree of production for and consumption from market-based economies) influences the relative costs/benefits of pathogen exposure and avoidance through sanitation, hygiene, and lifestyle changes, and is thus predicted to affect PDS. Here, we examine the function of PDS in disease avoidance, its environmental calibration, and its socioecological variation by examining associations among PDS, market-related lifestyle factors, and measures of bacterial, viral, and macroparasitic infection at the individual, household, and community levels. Data were collected among 75 participants (ages 5 to 59 y) from 28 households in three Ecuadorian Shuar communities characterized by subsistence-based lifestyles and high pathogen burden, but experiencing rapid market integration. As predicted, we found strong negative associations between PDS and biomarkers of immune response to viral/bacterial infection, and weaker associations between PDS and measures of macroparasite infection, apparently mediated by market integration-related differences. We provide support for the previously untested hypothesis that PDS is negatively associated with infection, and document variation in PDS indicative of calibration to local socioeconomic conditions. More broadly, findings highlight the importance of evolved psychological mechanisms in human health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2018552118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume118
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 23 2021

Keywords

  • Behavioral immune system
  • Disgust
  • Market integration
  • Pathogen avoidance
  • Shuar

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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