Body odor disgust sensitivity is associated with prejudice towards a fictive group of immigrants

Physiol Behav. 2019 Mar 15:201:221-227. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2019.01.006. Epub 2019 Jan 11.


Why are certain individuals persistent in opposing immigration? The behavioral immune system framework implies that a psychological mechanism, which adapted to detect and avoid pathogen threats, is also reflected in contemporary social attitudes. Moreover, prejudice towards outgroups might be partially driven by implicit pathogen concerns related to the perceived dissimilarity with these groups' hygiene and food preparation practices. Disgust, a universal core emotion supposedly evolved to avoid pathogen threats, as well as olfaction, both play a pivotal role in evoking disgust. In an online study (N = 800), we investigated whether individual differences in body odor disgust sensitivity (BODS) correlate with negative attitudes towards a fictive refugee group. The data analysis plan and hypotheses were preregistered. Results show that body odor disgust sensitivity is associated with xenophobia: BODS was positively associated with negative attitudes towards the fictive group. This relationship was partially mediated by perceived dissimilarities of the group in terms of hygiene and food preparation. Our finding suggests prejudice might be rooted in sensory mechanisms.

Keywords: Behavioral immune system; Body odor disgust sensitivity; Disgust; Olfaction; Prejudice; Xenophobia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude
  • Disgust*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants*
  • Female
  • Food
  • Humans
  • Hygiene
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odorants*
  • Politics
  • Prejudice / psychology*
  • Smell
  • Xenophobia