Pathogen prevalence and food taboos: A cross-cultural analysis

Alexandra S. Wormley, Adam B. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Deciding what to eat is a choice we make many times per day, and each time it is crucial to our survival. Religion and culture are two guiding structures for what we may and may not eat. Food taboos exist in many cultures and religions though they vary in content. Some theorists propose food taboos may have evolved to protect us from pathogens, among other ultimate and proximate explanations for the persistence of food taboos. Here, we present evidence from 311 religious groups and 78 cultures that the presence of food taboos is unrelated to pathogen prevalence using archival data from the Database of Religious History, suggesting that the pathogen hypothesis may not explain the existence of food taboos. We conclude with alternative theories for the functional origins of food taboos.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100056
JournalCurrent Research in Ecological and Social Psychology
StatePublished - Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Culture
  • Disease threat
  • Food
  • Religion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)


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