Jessica Hlay

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Boston U.

Grant number

Gr. 10309

Approve Date

April 13, 2022

Project Title

Hlay, Jessica (Boston U.) "How and why do children vary in disgust?"

Infectious disease has been a strong selection pressure on all species. Nonetheless, physiologically fighting infection can be energetically costly, detracting from growth and reproduction. As a result, species may have evolved behavioral avoidance strategies to better fight infections, without the energetic cost of employing one’s immune system. I propose studying behavioral avoidance strategies as a function of pathogen disgust sensitivity (PDS). PDS promotes behavioral avoidance, but it may limit energy intake and interpersonal interactions. Therefore, PDS should be individually calibrated to the costs and benefits of such avoidance. I will examine variability in PDS through five variables: age, inflammation activity (through blood spots), energy budget, control over one’s environment, and sex. I predict that 1) PDS will increase with age across development, plateauing around puberty; 2) as inflammation increases, PDS will decrease; 3) as energy budget increases, PDS will increase as well; 4) those with less control over their environment will have lower PDS; 5) girls will have higher PDS than boys. Results from this project will expand the limited literature on individual variation and acquisition of PDS. This project has theoretical implications, such that we will better understand how energetic limitations and avoidance strategies trade-off in various environments.