The Yuck Factor Explained

By Tiffanny O'Callaghan, in The New Scientist

Disgust can be a bewildering emotion. In her new book, That's Disgusting, research psychologist Rachel Herz points out that our tendency to react by pulling away is based on a combination of self-preservation and learned behaviour.

When we are grossed out we all make the same face: opening the mouth, pulling back the upper lip, wrinkling the nose, even sticking out the tongue. But what causes us to sneer with disgust differs.

When you grow up eating fermented animal products you may consider them delicious, but if you weren't raised munching Stilton cheese it can be gag-inducing stuff. Hákarl - shark meat decomposed underground - is a delicacy in some Icelandic cultures, but to many outsiders the idea of eating it is repugnant.

Most alarming, though, is when our tendency toward disease avoidance is conflated with moral repugnance. Herz points out that during the Holocaust and the Rwandan Tutsi massacre in 1994, the victims were cast as disease-ridden vermin. "The 'final solution' is frighteningly simple," Herz writes. "If you want to make a group despicable and justify murdering them, equate them with disease and disgust."

Read the article.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Posted:  by agomberg
Join the Network    
Users are able to post news & publications, maintain a profile, and participate in discussion forums related to research on virtues.