Disgusted and afraid: Consumer choices under the threat of contagious disease

Chelsea Galoni*, Gregory S. Carpenter, R. A.O. Hayagreeva

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Consumers regularly encounter cues of contagious disease in daily life—a commuter sneezes on the train, a colleague blows their nose in a meeting, or they read recent headlines about the dangerous spread of a disease. Research has overwhelmingly argued that the dominant response to these cues is disgust—an emotion that leads to a desire to reject and avoid potential contamination. We argue, however, that contagious disease cues can also elicit fear. Across four experiments and two large empirical data analyses of the presence of contagious disease on actual consumption behavior, we find that cues of contagious disease increase both fear and disgust, and these emotions together form a unique behavioral tendency with respect to consumer behavior. Relative to either emotion alone, disgust and fear increase preference for more-familiar products asymmetrically over less-familiar ones. These results contribute theoretically to research on complex emotional states and the behavioral tendencies of emotions, document a systematic and consequential impact of contagious disease cues on real consumption behavior, and have significant practical implications for marketers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)373-392
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Consumer Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Contagion
  • Disease
  • Disgust
  • Emotion
  • Familiarity
  • Fear

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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