"Repugnance" & reasoned deciscionmaking ... a fragment
Wednesday, May 25, 2016 at 7:11AM
Dan Kahan

From something I working on ...

Disgust-motivated cognition of costs and benefits

 “Repugnance” can figure in an agent’s instrumental reasoning in a number of ways. One would be as an argument in his or her utility function: repugnant states of affairs are ones worth incurring a cost to avoid; the repugnance of an act is a cost that must be balanced against the value of the otherwise desirable states of affairs that the action might help to promote (e.g., Becker 2013). Alternatively, repugnance might be viewed as investing acts or states of affairs with some “taboo” quality that makes them inappropriate objects of cost-benefit calculation (Fiske & Tetlock 1997). I will address a third possibility: that repugnance might unconsciously shape how actors appraise consequences of actions or states of affairs.  Wholly apart from whatever disutility an agent might assign an act or state of affairs on account of its being repugnant, an agent is likely to conform his or her assessment of information about its risks and benefits to the aversion that it excites in her (Finucane, Alhakami, Slovic & Johnson 2000; Douglas 1966). I will survey the psychological mechanisms for this form of “disgust-motivated” reasoning and assess its implications for rational decisionmaking, individual and collective.


Becker, G.S. The economic approach to human behavior (University of Chicago press, 2013).

Douglas, M. Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (1966).

Finucane, M.L., Alhakami, A., Slovic, P. & Johnson, S.M. The Affect Heuristic in Judgments of Risks and Benefits. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making 13, 1-17 (2000).

Fiske, A.P. & Tetlock, P.E. Taboo Trade-offs: Reactions to Transactions That Transgress the Spheres of Justice. Political Psychology 18, 255-297 (1997).

Article originally appeared on cultural cognition project (http://www.culturalcognition.net/).
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