Applied Cognitive Psychology

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Did you wash your hands? Evaluating memory for objects touched by healthy individuals and individuals with contagious and noncontagious diseases

Summary Prior research suggests that individuals recruit a disease‐avoidance system designed to avoid sources of illness through threat detection and memory. Our study evaluated whether disease‐related memory benefits reflect the distinctive/salient nature of a diseased state versus the infectious nature of a disease by comparing memory for objects touched by healthy individuals or those with a contagious or noncontagious disease. Participants studied videos depicting an actor interacting with objects in which the actor was described as diagnosed with influenza, an infectious disease, cancer, a noninfectious disease, or was healthy, followed by free‐recall and source‐recognition tests. Correct recall and source recognition were greater overall for touched versus nontouched items, but source recognition was particularly elevated for items touched by the infectious influenza actor. Further, touched‐item recognition was positively related to participants' assessed germ aversion—supplemental evidence that disease concerns may facilitate source recollections for touched objects.

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