Don’t sweat it

Monday 22 February 2016


People are less likely to be offended by body odour if the person involved is part of their own group, according to new research from the University of St Andrews.

The new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), sheds light into disgust and explains why people can work together with sweaty team-mates without being put off.

The research, led by Professor Stephen Reicher of the University’s School of Psychology & Neuroscience, involved two experiments involving students at St Andrews and Sussex University.

The students were asked to pick up and sniff a sweaty t-shirt which either had the logo of their own university or of another university.

When sniffing the former, students rated it less disgusting. They also walked over to wash their hands more slowly and used less soap to do so.

Professor Reicher said: “These studies were fun to conduct and the results are quite entertaining. But there is a serious message to them as well. Disgust is an emotion which plays a fundamental role in keeping us distant from others and from things that might harm us, such as infection.

“But, by the same token, it can stop people coming together when that is necessary. After all, you won’t work effectively with others if you can’t stand being in the same room with them. You can’t pull together if you can’t bear to touch others. So the reduction of physical disgust is a basic mechanism which is necessary for groups to come together, to cohere successfully and to work together effectively.”

Anne Templeton of Sussex University, who conducted one of the studies, added: “These findings suggest that disgust isn’t just a matter of sensory information (what we see and touch and smell) but of our social relationship to the source. This helps explain, for instance, why we experience less disgust when our own children are sick on us or when we change their nappies.”

The paper ‘Core disgust is attenuated by ingroup relations’ by Steve Reicher, Anne Templeton, Fergus Neville, Lucienne Ferrari and John Drury is published today (Monday 22 February 2016) by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Note to editors: 

Professor Reicher is available for interview on 01334 463057 or 463000 or via email: [email protected]

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews contactable on 01334 462530 or email [email protected].

Ref: Disgust 22022016

Category Research

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