‘Disgust is so hot right now’

An interesting piece in the New York Times, looking at the growing amount of academic interest in the emotion of disgust:

Disgust is having its moment in the light as researchers find that it does more than cause that sick feeling in the stomach. It protects human beings from disease and parasites, and affects almost every aspect of human relations, from romance to politics.In several new books and a steady stream of research papers, scientists are exploring the evolution of disgust and its role in attitudes toward food, sexuality and other people.

Paul Rozin, a psychologist who is an emeritus professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a pioneer of modern disgust research, began researching it with a few collaborators in the 1980s, when disgust was far from the mainstream. “It was always the other emotion,” he said. “Now it’s hot.”

The article goes on:

The research may have practical benefits, including clues to obsessive compulsive disorder, some aspects of which — like excessive hand washing — look like disgust gone wild. Conversely, some researchers are trying to inspire more disgust at dirt and germs to promote hand washing and improve public health. Dr. Valerie Curtis, a self-described ‘disgustologist’ from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is involved in efforts in Africa, India and England to explore what she calls “the power of trying to gross people out.” One slogan that appeared to be effective in England in getting people to wash their hands before leaving a bathroom was “Don’t bring the toilet with you.”

Disgust was not completely ignored in the past. Charles Darwin tackled the subject in “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.” He described the face of disgust, documented by Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne in his classic study of facial expressions in 1862, as if one were expelling some horrible-tasting substance from the mouth. “I never saw disgust more plainly expressed,” Darwin wrote, “than on the face of one of my infants at five months, when, for the first time, some cold water, and again a month afterwards, when a piece of ripe cherry was put into his mouth.” His book did not contain an image of the infant, but fortunately YouTube has numerous videos of babies tasting lemons.

Let’s see some of that lemon-eating fun (no babies were harmed in the course of these experiments)…

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  1. Pingback: Ugh! A brief history of disgust | The History of Emotions Blog

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