Disgust, a forgotten emotion

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Joe Dispenza


Disgust, a forgotten emotion

We usually feel disgust when we eat something we don't like, but sometimes we can feel it towards an idea or lifestyle. Can disgust come to be a cultural conditioning?

Last update: Augusts 27, 2020

Little is said about disgust, or repugnance, however it is one of the basic emotions. When we eat something and perceive an unpleasant taste, we automatically leave that food. The same happens when we feel an unpleasant smell in the kitchen and we understand that something has gone wrong and we have to get rid of it because it can hurt us. But what exactly is disgust?

Remember the last time you felt disgusted? How did you feel? Did it happen with a food? Have you tried it more? Would you be able to eat an insect? Do you believe that feeling disgusted with certain things rather than others can be a cultural experience?

From childhood, disgust is present in our lives, regardless of its intensity. For this reason, it is important to know what lies behind this emotion, since sometimes it goes beyond the purely toxic element, affecting, for example, our way of perceiving the world.

When do we feel disgusted?

We feel disgust when we eat something that has gone bad or almost. It is an adaptive reaction that prevents us from experiencing unpleasant and harmful situations for health. This emotion, however, can also arise from an idea that repels us. At the basis of this emotion is therefore the intention to avoid being contaminated.

For example, when we open the refrigerator with the intention of eating a good slice of watermelon and we realize that it is half rotten, we do not contemplate the option of eating it, but we throw it away. Its poor condition has informed us that it can be harmful to our health and put us in danger. Or again, we want to pour a little milk into the coffee, but when we open the brick we notice an acrid smell that is too strong. If this happens, we immediately throw away the expired milk.

The ugly appearance and smell of many foods indicate that it is better to throw them out than eat them, as they can put our health at risk. In this way, we can consider disgust is an adaptive emotion that prevents us from experiencing intoxicating situations.

Several studies associate this sensation with the insular cortex. Any injuries in this structure, in fact, prevent you from feeling disgust, but also from recognizing it in others.

Is disgust cultural?

The experience of disgust is universal, but it can vary according to one's culture. Although it is an emotion that helps us avoid any dangers to the body, it is also true that based on culture there are foods that, although non-toxic, may seem more or less repulsive to us. However, it is important to remember that this emotion manifests itself with a characteristic facial expression, which can even be observed in people who are blind from birth; it also exhibits a typical physiological, psychological and behavioral response.

Few in Spain doubt the delicacy of a plate of shrimp, but would we ever eat a plate of crickets or grasshoppers? In some countries, insects can be genuine delicacies, while in others they awaken the deepest aversion.

Even in the same country, a recipe can be a pleasure for many and a horror for others. Snails are a clear example of this, some people love them while others can't even look at them. It follows that this emotion is also implicit in the personality and education received by the individual.

There are certainly basic situations that usually arouse disgust to most people, such as an ugly appearance or a nauseating smell. However, it is also important to take cultural influences into account. Based on this, we may experience greater or lesser rejection.


Psychological disgust

Feeling disgust helps us keep our bodies away from toxic elements, but this emotion does not concern only food and can also be transferred to the ideological sphere. Many people express the disgust they feel towards another culture, race, religion, country, etc. This idea is also based on the thought of toxicity.

Fear arises in the presence of a physical threat, while disgust appears in the presence of a spiritual danger.

-Paul Rozin-

Some individuals perceive other ideologies as toxic to their own person. They think that in some way they can harm their beliefs or their lives in general. For example, racism and xenophobia derive from this form of disgust. Considering other races and people as toxic, we tend to reject and avoid them.

According to the results of the research conducted by Paul Rozin, a psychologist dedicated to the study of this emotion, "elaborate disgust is a refusal reaction to events that remind us of our animalistic nature".

Rozin and his collaborators indicate that although disgust is a defense mechanism initially originated to avoid contaminated agents, over time it has become free from these organic elements and we can come to prove it against someone who violates moral rules. As we see, this emotion presents an interesting evolutionary history.

According to these authors, feeling disgusted with those who are racist, violent or any person whose conduct is considered negative could mean that we are assuming the role of protectors of human dignity within the social order. What do you think?

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