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Avoidance of biological contaminants through sight, smell and touch in chimpanzees
Cecile Sarabian, Barthelemy Ngoubangoye, Andrew J. J. MacIntosh

Avoiding biological contaminants is a well-known manifestation of the adaptive system of disgust. In theory, animals evolved with such a system to prevent pathogen and parasite infection. Bodily products are human-universal disgust elicitors, but whether they also elicit avoidance behaviour in non-human primates has yet to be tested. Here, we report experimental evidence that potential exposure to biological contaminants (faeces, blood, semen), as perceived via multiple sensory modalities (visual, olfactory, tactile), might influence feeding decisions in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes)?our closest phylogenetic relatives. Although somewhat mixed, our results do show increased latencies to feed, tendencies to maintain greater distances from contaminants and/or outright refusals to consume food in test versus control conditions. Overall, these findings are consistent with the parasite avoidance theory of disgust, although the presence of biological contaminants did not preclude feeding entirely. The avoidance behaviours observed hint at the origins of disgust in humans, and further comparative research is now needed.

Royal Society Open Science
Published 8 November 2017
DOI: 10.1098/rsos.170968
2017/12/01 Primate Research Institute