Thibodeau asked hundreds of volunteers recruited online in the US to rate how aversive they found various words, including moist. Thibodeau tested several possible reasons for moist's unusual unpopularity by seeing what other words were unpopular among the moist-haters. One idea is that people are averse to the word "moist" because of how it sounds.
If true then people should also be averse to similar sounding words like "hoist" and "foist," but they weren't. This isn't too much of a surprise given that the sounds that make up a language tend to be random, apart from a smattering of onomatopoeic words words that convey sounds like "splash. Another clue comes from the observation that "moist" can be very good in some contexts, such as when it describes the texture of the slice of cake we've just been served, but can be very bad in others, for example when it refers to the condition of the armpit of the person crammed next to us on the London Tube.
So, perhaps the word "moist" is seen as aversive because there is conflict in many people's minds between these simultaneous strong positive and negative connotations.
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Thibodeau tested this possibility by assessing how people rated "moist" on a 5-point positivity scale from "not at all positive" to "very positive" and also on a similar 5-point negatively scale from "not at all negative" to "very negative". In fact, "moist" tended to be rated around the middle of both scales rather than being very high in both as the conflicting connotations explanation would require. Yet another possibility is that "moist" is aversive because it brings to mind unsavory associations, such as sexual words or words connected with non-sexual bodily functions.
This is actually the most promising explanation because people who were averse to the word "moist" also tended to be averse to bodily function words like "phlegm" or "puke. But note, these same people were not usually averse to sexual words like "horny" or "py" suggesting that their aversion to the word "moist" was driven not by sexual prudishness but a dislike of more mundane bodily functions.
Other intriguing insights come from when Thibodeau asked people to explain their dislike of the word "moist" — whether it was the sound, the meaning, or both. Most often people indicated it was the sound of the word, at odds with the earlier finding that "hoist" and "foist" were not unpopular.
That people averse to the word "moist" tended to misappropriate the source of their aversion to the sound of the word may indicate a general tendency for us not to notice when disgust colors our opinions. Often, moist-averse participants pointed to the sound of the word as the source of their aversion. The strongest evidence that moist-aversion is transmitted socially and may be triggered by a process of conscious deliberation came from one of our studies that was designed to induce an aversion to the word.
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There are a few important lessons to be learned from these studies. More relevant to broader theories in psychology, the work has implications for theories of language processing and the psychology of disgust. Disgust is adaptive. But is this instinct biological or do we learn it?
Does our culture shape what we find disgusting? This is a complex and nuanced question. Significant work is needed to answer it definitively. His research focuses on how people communicate with metaphors and analogies. His lab uses computational models and behavioral experiments to study the mechanisms that underline figurative language processing and the subtle but powerful ways that metaphors and analogies constrain the way we think.
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moist - Wiktionary
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