Disgust and the Moralization of Purity

E. J. Horberg, Christopher Oveis, Dacher Keltner, Adam Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

340 Scopus citations


Guided by appraisal-based models of the influence of emotion upon judgment, we propose that disgust moralizes-that is, amplifies the moral significance of-protecting the purity of the body and soul. Three studies documented that state and trait disgust, but not other negative emotions, moralize the purity moral domain but not the moral domains of justice or harm/care. In Study 1, integral feelings of disgust, but not integral anger, predicted stronger moral condemnation of behaviors violating purity. In Study 2, experimentally induced disgust, compared with induced sadness, increased condemnation of behaviors violating purity and increased approval of behaviors upholding purity. In Study 3, trait disgust, but not trait anger or trait fear, predicted stronger condemnation of purity violations and greater approval of behaviors upholding purity. We found that, confirming the domain specificity of the disgust-purity association, disgust was unrelated to moral judgments about justice (Studies 1 and 2) or harm/care (Study 3). Finally, across studies, individuals of lower socioeconomic status (SES) were more likely than individuals of higher SES to moralize purity but not justice or harm/care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)963-976
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2009


  • disgust
  • emotion
  • moral judgment
  • purity
  • socioeconomic status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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