Sex, germs, and health: pathogen-avoidance motives and health-protective behaviour

S.L.K. Gruijters*, Joshua M. Tybur, Robert A.C. Ruiter, Karlijn Massar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Web of Science)


Objective: Recent work suggests that the psychology of pathogen-avoidance has wide-reaching effects on how people interact with the world. These processes – part of what has been referred to as the behavioural immune system – are, in a way, our ‘evolved’ health psychology. However, scholars have scarcely investigated how the behavioural immune system relates to health-protective behaviours. The current research attempts to fill this gap.

Design: Across two cross-sectional studies (N = 386 and 470, respectively), we examined the relationship between pathogen-avoidance motives and health-protective behaviour.

Outcome Measures: The studies used self-reported measures of attitude and intention as indicators of health-protective behaviour.

Results: Data collected in Study 1 revealed that pathogen-avoidance motivation related to participants’ attitude and intention towards sexually transmitted infections screening. High levels of pathogen-avoidance motivation were also related to having had fewer sexual partners, which partially mediated the effect of pathogen-avoidance variables on testing motivation. Study 2 extended these findings by showing moderate associations between pathogen-avoidance motivation and a broad range of health-protective behaviours, including but not limited to pathogen-related health concerns.

Conclusion: We argue that understanding and targeting pathogen-avoidance psychology can add novel and important understanding of health-protective behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)959-975
Number of pages17
JournalPsychology & Health
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


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