Gary D. Sherman, Jonathan Haidt and Gerald L. Clore in Psychological Science:
Purity is commonly regarded as being physically embodied in the color white, with even trivial deviations from whiteness indicating a loss of purity. In three studies, we explored the implications of this “white = pure” association for disgust, an emotion that motivates the detection and avoidance of impurities that threaten purity and cleanliness. We hypothesized that disgust tunes perception to prioritize the light end of the light-dark spectrum, which results in a relative hypersensitivity to changes in lightness in this range. In Studies 1 and 2, greater sensitivity to disgusting stimuli was associated with greater ability to make subtle gray-scale discriminations (e.g., detecting a faint gray stimulus against a white background) at the light end of the spectrum relative to ability to make subtle gray-scale discriminations at the dark end of the spectrum. In Study 3, after viewing disgusting images, disgust-sensitive individuals demonstrated a heightened ability to detect deviations from white. These findings suggest that disgust not only motivates people to avoid impurities, but actually makes them better able to see them.