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Title:Disgust and religious morality of mind
Author(s):Ritter, Ryan
Director of Research:Preston, Jesse L.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Preston, Jesse L.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Cohen, Dov; Gray, Kurt; Hubert, Lawrence J.; Kraus, Michael W.
Department / Program:Psychology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
mental contamination
moral judgment
facial electromyography
Abstract:Religious thoughts and beliefs are often perceived to have drastic moral consequences (e.g., faith in God leading to eternal life). At the same time, religions often emphasize the avoidance of physical and spiritual contamination. Whereas past research has found that people experience disgust in response to immoral behaviors (e.g., sibling incest, eating rotten meat, and unfairness), here I investigate the nature of disgust in response to religious thought violations. Can mere thoughts—independent of behavior—elicit disgust and feelings of contamination? In Study 1, thinking about religious statements perceived as false (e.g., “praying to God is a waste of time”) elicited more self-reported disgust and more harsh moral judgments than factually false statements (e.g., “there are 13 letters in the English alphabet”). Moreover, self-reported disgust predicted more harsh moral judgments after statistically controlling for the influence of anger and other negative emotions. Study 2 directly replicated the effects of Study 1, and also found that contamination partially mediated the association between disgust and moral judgments. Studies 3 and 4 used facial electromyography (EMG) to address a more fundamental question: is disgust in response to religious thought violations associated with physical disgust (i.e., oral/nasal inhibition)? Study 3 first replicated previous research demonstrating an association (a) between self-reported disgust, physical contamination (e.g., “eating in a dirty public bathroom”), and levator labii muscle activity, and (b) between self-reported anger, harm violations (e.g., “someone kicking your pet dog”), and corrugator supercilii muscle activity. In Study 4, although self-report measures again replicated Studies 1 and 2, there was no evidence that religious thought violations were associated with physical disgust as measured by levator labii muscle activity. Instead, self-reported disgust (along with other negative emotions) was associated with corrugator supercilii muscle activity. This suggests that while physical and moral disgust may share in common subjective feelings of contamination, religious thought violations do not elicit the same facial muscle activity as physically contaminating stimuli. Blasphemous thoughts may be perceived as disgusting/contaminating, but only metaphorically so.
Issue Date:2014-05-30
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 Ryan Ritter
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-05-30
Date Deposited:2014-05

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