Associate Professor of Psychology Bunmi Olatunji is one of 45 members who the Association for Psychological Science has elevated this year to the status of fellow, which is awarded to individuals “who have made sustained outstanding contributions to the science of psychology in the areas of research, teaching, service and/or application.”
Olatunji’s research focuses on the nature of disgust and its relation to anxiety disorders. By developing a laboratory-based approach, he has emerged as one of the leading thinkers in the field.
Scientists have long recognized that disgust has an important impact on behavior. From an evolutionary perspective, disgust arises from the primitive sensation of distaste that is triggered by contaminated or bad-tasting foods. In this view, disgust prevents ingestion of harmful substances, which in turn protects against diseases: characteristic facial expressions of disgust are mediated by muscles necessary to avoid consuming contaminants.
At Vanderbilt, Olatunji has focused on the role of disgust in the generation and maintenance of a variety of psychiatric disorders and on the investigation of specific vulnerabilities to the anxiety disorders. Traditional models emphasize the role of uncontrollable fear in the development of anxiety disorders. Olatunji’s research has found that disease avoidance mediated by disgust also may control the development of anxiety disorders and has shown that exposing people to disgusting stimuli, such as gruesome images or unpleasant odors, can aid in the treatment of some anxiety disorders.
Olatunji’s election brings the total number of current Vanderbilt APS fellows to 26.