Oral Immune Activation by Disgust and Disease-Related Pictures

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Abstract

Both disgust and disease-related images appear able to induce an innate immune response but it is unclear whether these effects are independent or rely upon a common shared factor (e.g., disgust or disease-related cognitions). In this study we directly compared these two inductions using specifically generated sets of images. One set was disease-related but evoked little disgust, while the other set was disgust evoking but with less disease-relatedness. These two image sets were then compared to a third set, a negative control condition. Using a wholly within-subject design, participants viewed one image set per week, and provided saliva samples, before and after each viewing occasion, which were later analyzed for innate immune markers. We found that both the disease related and disgust images, relative to the negative control images, were not able to generate an innate immune response. However, secondary analyses revealed innate immune responses in participants with greater propensity to feel disgust following exposure to disease-related and disgusting images. These findings suggest that disgust images relatively free of disease-related themes, and disease-related images relatively free of disgust may be suboptimal cues for generating an innate immune response. Not only may this explain why disgust propensity mediates these effects, it may also imply a common pathway.

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