Chances are you’re misidentifying the origins of cough and sneeze sounds, according to a new study.
The more disgusting people perceive a sound to be, the more likely they were to judge that it came from an infected person, regardless of whether or not that’s true, the research shows.
“We find no evidence that perceivers can reliably detect pathogen threats from cough and sneeze sounds, even though they are reasonably certain they can,” says lead author Nicholas Michalak, a psychology graduate student at the University of Michigan.
On average, participants guessed approximately 4 out of 10 sounds correctly from either an infected or noninfected person.
Unlike other studies indicating perceivers can accurately diagnose infection using other senses, such as sight and smell, the researchers found that people over perceive pathogen threats in subjectively disgusting sounds.
Participants in four studies judged whether cough and sneeze sounds were produced by people infected with a communicable disease or not. Researchers found no evidence that these participants could accurately identify the origins through auditory cues.
On average, they guessed approximately four out of 10 sounds correctly from either an infected or noninfected person.
“Moreover, there was no evidence that accuracy improved when participants knew the true number of infectious sounds in advance or when participants focused on how clear or disgusting they perceived the sounds,” Michalak sats. “Despite this poor overall accuracy, perceivers consistently reported reasonable certainty in their judgments.”
Perceivers believe that what disgusts them is likely to represent a disease threat. This, Mickalak says, could potentially lead them to exhibit biases to avoid interactions with others who make disgusting but noninfectious noises.
The bottom line, according to researchers, is the next time you hear someone cough or sneeze, perhaps leave the diagnosis to the doctor.
Additional coauthors are from UC Irvine and the University of Michigan.
Source: University of Michigan