Disgust is a common emotion, but can often be misinterpreted as something minor, like a distaste. However, when we see something we think is revolting or not appeasing we might avoid situations in which that object or action might occur. It shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that disgust reactions are fairly common among people with anxiety disorders. Luckily, this avoidance behavior can be controlled. According to a study published in the International Journal of Clinical Health and Psychology, disgust reactions in children can be decreased or eliminated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This information emphasizes how valuable CBT can be to people with anxiety disorders.

How CBT Reduced Disgust in Children

Study participants were enrolled in an intensive CBT program in a private psychological practice in Westchester, New York. Forty-one children were included in the study, and their age range was from 7 to 17. Twenty-one of the 41 participants had Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Other participants had anxiety disorders like Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Separation Anxiety Disorder. Participants answered several questionnaires throughout the study, including the:

  • Anxiety Disorders Interview Schedule for DSM-IV: Parent and Child Versions
  • Children's Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale
  • Disgust Emotion Scale for Children
  • Childhood Anxiety Sensitivity Index

Results showed that CBT reduced disgust reactions in children, regardless of the anxiety disorder that the child had. Children with OCD, though, showed significantly greater reductions in disgust reactions after treatment as compared to children with other anxiety disorders. This evidence supports the idea that disgust is closely linked to avoidance behavior, rather than another higher order feature of anxiety disorders. It also suggests that disgust might be a significant symptom of anxiety, meaning that patients and doctors should also watch for this symptom while diagnosing a disorder.

What This Means for CBT and Disgust Symptoms

Because disgust often manifests itself as distaste rather than an aversion, we are inclined to think that it is not a serious symptom of an anxiety disorder. This new information re-categorizes disgust as a symptom of anxiety, and especially of OCD. This makes anxiety disorders easier to recognize and treat. It also reinforces the effectiveness of CBT as a treatment for anxiety disorders. If you or a loved one has an anxiety disorder, be sure to know the symptoms and seek appropriate help.

Date of original publication:


William Taboas, Rachel Ojserkis, Dean McKay. Change in disgust reactions following cognitive-behavioral therapy for childhood anxiety disorders. International Journal of Clinical Health and Psychology; August 2014. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijchp.2014.06.002