Bugs are blech, butterflies are beautiful, but both are bad to bite: Admired animals are disgusting to eat but are themselves neither disgusting nor contaminating. Academic Article uri icon


  • It is often assumed that things that are disgusting to eat are, themselves, disgusting, and that things that are disgusting to eat are also contaminating. We present data that counters both of these assumptions. In adult American and Indian samples, Study 1 provides evidence that, in contrast to many other insects, participants have positive attitudes toward butterflies. Participants are relatively unbothered by touching them or eating food that they have contacted but are very disgusted by the thought of eating them. Study 2 extends these findings with an adult American sample, comparing four pairs of animals, one admired and one disgusting: butterflies and cockroaches, canaries and vultures, koalas and rats, and dogs and hyenas. In all 4 cases, the positive animals themselves are rated as very low in disgustingness but rated as very disgusting to consume-almost as disgusting as the negative animals. However, although contact between the negative animals and a favorite food produces a strong disgust response to the favorite food, this contamination effect is much smaller, and sometimes absent, with the positive animals. We present evidence that the perceived immorality of killing admired animals is related to the disgust at consuming them. Disgust at eating an admired animal may have a moral component because it involves, at least indirectly, killing the animal. An admired animal that has contacted a favored food does not reliably make that food disgusting. In this scenario, as opposed to eating, there is no harm to the animal. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

publication date

  • 2019