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

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

16 Citations (Web of Science)
232 Downloads (Pure)


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
Early online date6 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Cite this