The Impact of Pathogen-Disgust Sensitivity on Vaccine and GM Food Risk Perceptions: Some Evidence for Skepticism

21 Pages Posted: 30 Dec 2016 Last revised: 2 Feb 2017

Dan M. Kahan

Yale University - Law School

Joseph Hilgard

University of Pennsylvania - Annenberg Public Policy Center

Date Written: December 30, 2016

Abstract

Recently scholars and popular commentators have suggested that disgust plays an important role in generating conflict over the risks of both GM foods and universal-childhood vaccinations. This paper presents evidence that calls that conclusion into doubt. Results from a large, diverse sample of U.S. adults corroborate that that anxiety over GM foods and over vaccines correlates with the standard pathogen disgust scale (PDS). But so do a multitude of perceived risks that are not plausibly related to disgust — including fear of flying in commercial airliners, worry about elevator crashes in high-rise buildings, and distress over children drowning in swimming pools. Indeed, these correlations tend to be larger than the ones between PDS and vaccine-risk perceptions and at least as large as the ones between PDS and GM-food-risk perceptions. Because what PDS tells us about disgust-driven fears is confounded with the scale’s sensitivity to a generalized fear of all manner of risks, it is difficult to draw any confident inferences about what drives the modest correlations between PDS and GM-food and vaccine risk perceptions.

Keywords: vaccines, risk perceptions, pathogen discust, discriminant validity

Suggested Citation

Kahan, Dan M. and Hilgard, Joseph, The Impact of Pathogen-Disgust Sensitivity on Vaccine and GM Food Risk Perceptions: Some Evidence for Skepticism (December 30, 2016). Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 568. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2891623

Dan M. Kahan (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.culturalcognition.net/kahan

Joseph Hilgard

University of Pennsylvania - Annenberg Public Policy Center ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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