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      Disgust as an adaptive system for disease avoidance behaviour

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          Abstract

          Disgust is an evolved psychological system for protecting organisms from infection through disease avoidant behaviour. This ‘behavioural immune system’, present in a diverse array of species, exhibits universal features that orchestrate hygienic behaviour in response to cues of risk of contact with pathogens. However, disgust is also a dynamic adaptive system. Individuals show variation in pathogen avoidance associated with psychological traits like having a neurotic personality, as well as a consequence of being in certain physiological states such as pregnancy or infancy. Three specialized learning mechanisms modify the disgust response: the Garcia effect, evaluative conditioning and the law of contagion. Hygiene behaviour is influenced at the group level through social learning heuristics such as ‘copy the frequent’. Finally, group hygiene is extended symbolically to cultural rules about purity and pollution, which create social separations and are enforced as manners. Cooperative hygiene endeavours such as sanitation also reduce pathogen prevalence. Our model allows us to integrate perspectives from psychology, ecology and cultural evolution with those of epidemiology and anthropology. Understanding the nature of disease avoidance psychology at all levels of human organization can inform the design of programmes to improve public health.

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          Most cited references114

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              An alternative "description of personality": the big-five factor structure.

              In the 45 years since Cattell used English trait terms to begin the formulation of his "description of personality," a number of investigators have proposed an alternative structure based on 5 orthogonal factors. The generality of this 5-factor model is here demonstrated across unusually comprehensive sets of trait terms. In the first of 3 studies, 1,431 trait adjectives grouped into 75 clusters were analyzed; virtually identical structures emerged in 10 replications, each based on a different factor-analytic procedure. A 2nd study of 479 common terms grouped into 133 synonym clusters revealed the same structure in 2 samples of self-ratings and in 2 samples of peer ratings. None of the factors beyond the 5th generalized across the samples. In the 3rd study, analyses of 100 clusters derived from 339 trait terms suggest their potential utility as Big-Five markers in future studies.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci
                RSTB
                royptb
                Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
                The Royal Society
                0962-8436
                1471-2970
                12 February 2011
                12 February 2011
                : 366
                : 1563 , Theme issue 'Evolution and human behavioural diversity' compiled and edited by Gillian R. Brown, Thomas E. Dickins, Rebecca Sear and Kevin N. Laland
                : 389-401
                Affiliations
                The Hygiene Centre, simpleLondon School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine , London WC1E 7HT, UK
                Author notes
                [* ]Author for correspondence ( val.curtis@ 123456lshtm.ac.uk ).
                Article
                rstb20100117
                10.1098/rstb.2010.0117
                3013466
                21199843
                a443cfe9-4785-474d-ac62-a254a04a55c4
                This journal is © 2011 The Royal Society

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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                Philosophy of science
                manners,disgust,adaptive variation,infectious disease,hygiene behaviour,evolutionary psychology

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