Word Aversion and Consumer Behavior

AbstractWord aversion is characterized by visceral disgust in response to seeing or hearing a word. Unlike taboo words or profanity, aversive words do not seem to have an obvious historical context, referent, or pejorative function that causes people to react negatively to them. “Moist” is a prototypical example of an aversive word: roughly 20% of American English speakers equate hearing the word with the sound of fingernails scratching a chalkboard. Despite widespread aversion to “moist,” the word frequently appears on the packaging of consumer products like cake, shampoo, and towelettes. The present study tests whether word aversion affects consumer behavior. We find that moist-averse participants are less like to choose hygiene-related, but not cake-related, products that have “moist” on the package. We discuss the implications of this finding for theories of language processing and disgust in the context of consumer behavior.

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