Measuring disgust through oculomotor avoidance
In the 1980s, Paul Rozin and colleagues conducted the first laboratory experiments on disgust. Three decades later, their methods of measuring disgust, which involved self-report (“How disgusted are you?”) and behavioral avoidance tests (“Would you put that in your mouth?”), remain the standard for the field. In the PEEP lab, we are developing new measures of disgust, all of which hinge on the phenomenon of “oculomotor avoidance.” Put simply, people look away from gross things, and you can measure this behavior with an eye tracker. Eye tracking measures of disgust are not only objective, they are also “implicit”: participants are not aware that their eye movements are being used to measure disgust. Usually, we find that oculomotor avoidance tracks self-reported disgust. But we have also identified interesting cases in which the measures decouple. One example is the phenomenon of “rubbernecking.” We recently found that participants actually look more at certain disgusting stimuli on the first few exposures, a phenomenon that does not appear to be reflected in self-report data. Also, we have found that certain interventions (e.g., repeated exposure) reduce self-reported disgust more than oculomotor avoidance, whereas other interventions (e.g., conceptual reorientation) reduce oculomotor avoidance more than self-reported disgust. All of the projects on disgust described below use eye tracking in conjunction with self-report to achieve a more comprehensive assessment of disgust.
The COVID-19 pandemic inspired us to create an online alternative to eye tracking. Prof. Armstrong worked with Alex Anwyl-Irvine and Edwin Dalmaijer to create MouseView.js, a valid and reliable replacement for eye tracking. We have replicated several classic eye tracking findings already, including oculomotor avoidance of disgusting stimuli, oculomotor approach of pleasant stimuli, and gender differences in the specificity of sexual arousal (with our collaborator Prof. Samantha Dawson).
Recent study demonstrating that oculomotor avoidance is a valid disgust measure:
Armstrong, T., Dalmaijer, E. S., Bailey, B., Engel, M., & Morris, M. J. (2020). I’ve seen enough! Both prolonged and repeated exposure increase oculomotor avoidance of disgusting stimuli. Emotion. Preprint: https://psyarxiv.com/hgkpu
Preprint introducing MouseView.js:
Anwyl-Irvine, A. L., Armstrong, T., & Dalmaijer, E. S. (2021, March 7). MouseView.js: Reliable and valid attention tracking in web-based experiments using a cursor-directed aperture. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/rsdwg
Review paper on disgust measurement:
Armstrong, T., Wilbanks, D., Leong, D., & Hsu, K. (in press). Beyond vernacular: Measurement solutions for the lexical fallacy in disgust research. Journal of Anxiety Disorders. Postprint