A new research has revealed the feelings of disgust can increase behaviors like lying and cheating, while cleanliness can help people return to ethical behavior.
According to marketing experts at Rice University, Pennsylvania State University and Arizona State University, as an emotion, disgust is designed as a protection and when people feel disgusted, they tend to remove themselves from a situation. The instinct is to protect oneself.
People become focused on 'self' and they're less likely to think about other people. Small cheating starts to occur: If I'm disgusted and more focused on myself and I need to lie a little bit to gain a small advantage, I'll do that. That's the underlying mechanism.
The researchers found that cleansing behaviors actually mitigate the self-serving effects of disgust.
Vikas Mittal, the J. Hugh Liedtke Professor of Marketing at Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business, said that if one can create conditions where people's disgust is mitigated, they should not see this (unethical) effect, and one way to mitigate disgust is to make people think about something clean. If you can make people think of cleaning products - for example, Kleenex or Windex - the emotion of disgust is mitigated, so the likelihood of cheating also goes away. People don't know it, but these small emotions are constantly affecting them.
Mittal added that 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. 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.
The study will be published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.