Gross gods and icky atheism: Disgust responses to rejected religious beliefs

Ryan S. Ritter, Jesse Lee Preston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Disgust is an emotional response that helps to maintain and protect physical and spiritual purity by signaling contamination and motivating the restoration of personal cleanliness. In the present research we predicted that disgust may be elicited by contact with outgroup religious beliefs, as these beliefs pose a threat to spiritual purity. Two experiments tested this prediction using a repeated taste-test paradigm in which participants tasted and rated a drink before and after copying a passage from an outgroup religion. In Experiment 1, Christian participants showed increased disgust after writing a passage from the Qur'an or Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, but not a control text. Experiment 2 replicated this effect, and also showed that contact with an ingroup religious belief (Christians copying from the Bible) did not elicit disgust. Moreover, Experiment 2 showed that disgust to rejected beliefs was eliminated when participants were allowed to wash their hands after copying the passage, symbolically restoring spiritual cleanliness. Together, these results provide evidence that contact with rejected religious beliefs elicits disgust by symbolically violating spiritual purity. Implications for intergroup relations between religious groups is discussed, and the role of disgust in the protection of beliefs that hold moral value.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1225-1230
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • Embodiment
  • Moral disgust
  • Outgroups
  • Religious belief
  • Taste

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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