If you’re feeling more disgusted during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not alone. Turns out that so-called disgust sensitivity among Americans has risen along with our concerns about getting sick.
Ohio State University researchers surveyed roughly 2,300 participants over a two-and-a-half year period, both before and during the pandemic, to assess how grossed out they are by certain pictures, ideas and situations. The scientists expected to find that the pandemic is making people more easily disgusted — and that’s exactly what they found. But it wasn’t only situations where COVID-19 may be present that disgusted people more. It was in non-pandemic settings as well.
“One item on the rating asks how disgusted you would be if you were on an elevator and someone next to you sneezed. Another asks whether you’d be disgusted by eating chocolate shaped like dog doo — which has nothing to do with interacting and contracting a disease,” Shelby Boggs, a doctoral student in psychology at Ohio State, said in a statement. “The increase in disgust sensitivity really being limited to those people who were concerned about contracting COVID-19 also eliminated a number of alternative explanations for the data.”
Can disgust levels change?
For years, scientists and researchers have studied disgust sensitivity, trying to uncover what grosses some people out but doesn’t bother others. While it’s known that disgust levels vary from one person to the next, whether or not an individual’s disgust level can change has always been up for debate. The researchers set out to answer that question with this study.
From late 2018 through June 2022, they asked participants to rate their reaction to certain experiences on a scale of 0 to 4, with 4 being the most disgusted. Scenarios included walking through a tunnel and smelling urine and eating ice cream with ketchup as a topping. The researchers found that prior to the pandemic, the average disgust sensitivity was 2.82. But during the pandemic, it rose to 3.26. Disgust sensitivity was higher among participants worried about COVID-19.
Still, does that mean people will always be more easily grossed out thanks to COVID-19? The researchers don’t think so. As the risk of COVID-19 diminishes, they said, so should our disgust levels.