In a study recently conducted at Rice University, Pennsylvania State University and Arizona State University, researchers Vikas Mittal, Karen Page Winterich, and Andrea Morales examined the impact of emotions in individual decision-making. The study’s assumption is that when people feel disgust, they tend to avoid a situation as a protective mechanism, focusing on the self in detriment of others. On the contrary, cleansing behaviors are thought to mitigate the protective mechanism of disgust.
In this study, which will be available in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, the team conducted three randomized trials with 600 equally assigned participants.
In the first trial, participants had to evaluate consumer products such as antidiarrheal medication, diapers, feminine care pads, cat litter and adult incontinence products. In the second trial, participants had to write essays and state their most memory-related feelings of disgust. In the third, participants watched a scene from the movie “Trainspotting” with a disgusting toilet. Once disgusted, participants were engaged in tests to examine their willingness to lie and cheat for financial purposes. Researchers found that people who felt disgust engaged in lying and cheating behaviors at a significantly higher rates than those who did not.
Subsequently, the team conducted another set of trials and after inducing disgust, and evaluated the participants’ emotional impact on cleansing products, such as disinfectants, household cleaners, and body washes. The results showed that participants that evaluated the cleansing products were less likely to participate in deceptive behaviors than those in the neutrally emotional conditions.
In a press release Vikas Mittal said that, “The findings should help managers and organizational leaders understand the impact, both ethical and unethical, of emotions on decision-making.”
“At the basic level, if you have environments that are cleaner, if you have workplaces that are cleaner, people should be less likely to feel disgusted,” Vikas Mittal stated. “If there is less likelihood to feel disgusted, there will be a lower likelihood that people need to be self-focused and there will be a higher likelihood for people to cooperate with each other,” he added.