How The Feeling of Disgust Works.
Disgust is a universal feeling that is as old as the hills and helps to explain, well; everything.
Psychologist Paul Rosin has come up with some surprise findings. But face it; this is an emotion that many people in our times fail to appreciate.
Thinking of something as icky is not valid says the culture. You don’t have the right to find anything distasteful.
Thus, cultural and moral relativism reigns.
So then; disgust can be summed up as distaste at something one sees as offensive.
We can feel disgust at something we perceive with our physical senses (sight, smell, touch, sound, taste) or by the actions or appearances of people. Even by ideas.
Disgust comes in a range of states that increase with intensity; from mild dislike all the way through to intense loathing.
The common denominator in all these states is the feeling that something is averse, repulsive, and/or toxic.
Common disgust triggers
- Expelled bodily products; faeces, vomit, urine, mucus and blood
- Certain foods- normally from cultures other than our own.
- Something rotting, diseased or dying
- Injuries, surgeries and/or being exposed to bodily insides
- A person, animal or thing one considers physically ugly
- Perceived perversions or actions of other people such as certain sexual inclinations, torture or servitude
Development of disgust
Children and adolescents often have a fascination with disgust as do some adults (including finding disgusting things humorous and/or intriguing). For young children, however, disgust doesn’t begin to develop until sometime between the ages of four and eight. Before that children experience distaste, the rejection of things that taste bad; but nothing that disgusts.
Additional studies have shown that kids aren’t bothered by some of the things that adults find disgusting (e.g., eating a bar of chocolate shaped like dog faeces). One theory is that when we are younger, we do not yet have the cognitive capacity necessary for certain forms of learned disgust.
Benefits of disgust
One evolutionary benefit of disgust is to keep us away from or remove things potentially dangerous or damaging to keep us safe and healthy (e.g., not eating something putrid, staying away from open sores to avoid catching an infection or disease, avoiding interactions with “morally tainted” people).
Dangers of disgust
While there are noted benefits to feeling disgust, it can also be dangerous. Unfortunately, most societies teach the avoidance of certain groups of people deemed physically or morally disgusting and, thus, can be a driving force in dehumanizing and degrading others.
Reacting to disgust
While witnessing “gross” bodily functions (bleeding, defecating, etc.) in others often evokes disgust, this reaction is suspended when it is someone with whom we are close. Intimacy lowers the threshold for what we consider disgusting. So, while we still may feel some degree of disgust, it is reduced enough that we are able to help those we care about. Now, rather than try to get away, we are called to reduce the suffering of the loved one (e.g., changing a baby’s diaper or taking care of a sick family member). This suspension of disgust establishes intimacy and may even strengthen love and community.
What is the point of this study you might wonder?
Well you are not alone.
It is a banal lecture, a faux attempt at moralizing that is oddly unintellectual and out of place, a cultural diktat if you will.
But nevertheless there you have it.