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Ugh! Don’t get sick: disgust sensitivity contributes to health anxiety

Faculty Advisor




health anxiety, disgust sensitivity

Abstract (summary)

Health anxiety (HA) refers to persistent fears about experiencing or developing severe illnesses. HA has been associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and with dysfunctional health beliefs. However, some research has also indicated that the primary emotion of disgust may be associated with HA. The present study sought to investigate if a relationship exists between HA and disgust, even when controlling for OCD symptoms and dysfunctional metacognitive beliefs about health. An undergraduate sample (N=552) completed online self-report questionnaires of HA, OCD symptoms, health-related-metacognitions, disgust propensity, and disgust sensitivity. Disgust propensity refers to the likelihood that a person will experience disgust, while disgust sensitivity refers to how strongly a person experiences disgust. OCD symptoms, health-related-metacognitions, disgust propensity, and disgust sensitivity all showed moderate to strong bivariate correlations with HA. A hierarchical multiple linear regression was conducted with HA as the dependent variable, OCD symptoms entered in the first step, health-related-metacognitions in the second step, and disgust propensity and disgust sensitivity in the third step. It was found that disgust sensitivity, but not disgust propensity, was a unique predicter of HA, even when controlling for both OCD symptoms and health-related-metacognitions. This finding suggests a person’s sensitivity to the emotion of disgust may play a role in HA, and that this relationship is not better accounted for by OCD symptoms or health-related-metacognitions. Techniques targeting disgust sensitivity could be a valuable addition to therapies aimed at HA, with interoceptive exposure to the feelings of disgust being a possible area for future research.

Publication Information



Presented on September 23, 2023 at the Western Canadian Conference on Undergraduate Research in Psychology (CURP) held at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna, BC.

Item Type

Student Presentation



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