Skin-transmitted pathogens and the heebie jeebies: evidence for a subclass of disgust stimuli that evoke a qualitatively unique emotional response

Khandis R. Blake, Jennifer Yih, Kun Zhao, Billy Sung, Cindy Harmon-Jones

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Skin-transmitted pathogens have threatened humans since ancient times. We investigated whether skin-transmitted pathogens were a subclass of disgust stimuli that evoked an emotional response that was related to, but distinct from, disgust and fear. We labelled this response “the heebie jeebies”. In Study 1, coding of 76 participants’ experiences of disgust, fear, and the heebie jeebies showed that the heebie jeebies was elicited by unique stimuli which produced skin-crawling sensations and an urge to protect the skin. In Experiment 2,350 participants’ responses to skin-transmitted pathogen, fear-inducing, and disgust-inducing vignettes showed that the vignettes elicited sensations and urges which loaded onto heebie jeebies, fear, and disgust factors, respectively. Experiment 3 largely replicated findings from Experiment 2 using video stimuli (178 participants). Results are consistent with the notion that skin-transmitted pathogens are a subclass of disgust stimuli which motivate behaviours that are functionally consistent with disgust yet qualitatively distinct.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1153-1168
Number of pages16
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 18 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Disgust
  • emotion
  • fear
  • insects
  • skin-transmitted pathogens

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