Does aversion to insects affect insecticide use? An elusive answer calls for improved methods in biophobia research

Moshe Gish, Masumi Hisano, Masashi Soga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Insecticides are commonly used to control insects and other arthropods in homes (hereafter collectively referred to as ‘insects’). Although aversion to insects might encourage the use of insecticides, it is unclear whether such feelings truly influence the decision to use insecticides. We investigated the connection between feelings of disgust towards insects and the use of household insecticides. Our aim was to uncover the unexplored emotional drivers of insecticide use, in order to provide insights that might help develop new programmes to reduce exposure to household insecticides. We conducted an online survey (n = 2500) that focussed on insecticide use and disgust feelings towards six species commonly found in homes (cockroaches, ants, spiders, mosquitoes, flies and centipedes). Respondents rated their level of disgust towards these species and reported various beliefs and practices related to household insects and insect control. Approximately 70% of respondents expressed strong disgust towards these species (ratings of 6 or 7 on a scale of 1–7). More than half (53.3%) reported using aerosol insecticides in their homes in the 6 months prior to the survey. Path analyses highlighted several factors that influenced insecticide use, including infestation level, disgust intensity, lack of knowledge about arthropods and aversion to chemicals. However, the observed effect sizes were modest, particularly regarding the influence of disgust on insecticide use, which somewhat constrains our study's contribution to the understanding of the motivators driving household insecticide use. We explain how our findings potentially reflect a critical methodological limitation in the standard methods commonly used for measuring aversion in biophobia (fear of nature) research. This limitation originates from the fact that highly aversive animals often provoke extreme reactions from most participants, resulting in a very low data variation that hinders data analysis. We address this concern in the context of our findings and propose potential solutions that could pave the way for future research on how attitudes towards highly aversive animals affect individuals, society, and the relationships between people and nature. Read the free Plain Language Summary for this article on the Journal blog.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPeople and Nature
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors. People and Nature published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Ecological Society.

Keywords

  • arachnophobia
  • biophobia
  • ecological knowledge
  • entomophobia
  • extinction of experience
  • fear of insects
  • pesticide exposure
  • the vicious cycle of biophobia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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