Testing the Motivational Tradeoffs Between Pathogen Avoidance and Status Acquisition


  • Mitch Brown Orcid
  • Donald F. Sacco


To reduce disease transmission through interpersonal contact, humans have evolved a behavioral immune system that facilitates identification and avoidance of pathogens. One behavioral strategy in response to pathogenic threat is the adoption of interpersonal reticence. However, reticence may impede status acquisition. This program of research tested whether activating pathogen-avoidant motives through priming fosters reticence related to status, namely disinterest in pursuing a group leadership position (Study 1) or disinterest in accepting a group leadership position bestowed onto them (Study 2). Individuals high in germ aversion were particularly interested in pursuing leadership as a form of status, with disease salience unexpectedly heightening status motives among those low in germ aversion. Furthermore, those high in perceived infectability reported reluctance for high-status positions, although disease salience heightened interest in accepting such positions. We contextualize findings by identifying dispositional and situational factors that foster individuals to invoke motivational tradeoffs.