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What's disgusting?

In the fashion world, they call the popular color of the moment, the “new black.” In the world of psychology and biological evolution, disgust is the new black.

A piece in the New York Times notes numerous books and studies have recently come out, telling us more about the reason we go “Yuck!”

One “disgustologist” explained researchers are paying more attention to what we find revolting to gain insight into psychological disorders. They want to know more about why some things gag the average person.

As pointed out in the Times article, disgust is a fairly important emotion/sensation. Disgust leads to a lot of behavior involving hygiene, diet––not to mention dating and marriage.

The article noted disgust is used in marketing campaigns. For example, tying toilet images into efforts to promote hand-washing greatly improves the odds someone will thoroughly wash hands before preparing or eating food, thus decreasing the spread of germs.

Some of the researchers focusing on the evolutionary nature of disgust said the common idea of being disgusted by certain substances, such as excrement, is a holdover from the earliest humans avoiding things likely to make them sick. In caveman times up through the earliest civilization, our early ancestors couldn’t tell you about microbes or bacteria, but they developed a disgust gene that told them not to get drinking water downstream from the bathroom spot.

More than just staying away from stuff that is gross, disgust behaviors also come into play in social decisions such as choosing a mate and with moral issues – where people will say they are disgusted by certain actions.

The Times article, Survival’s Ick Factor (written by James Gorman and available at the Times website, notes that serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, is the perfect trifecta of disgust study. (1) He killed people (disgusting morals). (2) He ate the people he killed (disgusting culinary choice). And (3) He did plain ol’ disgusting things to the victims (disgusting social choice).

Contrary to the idea of disgust-used-to-discourage is the notion that some companies and industries go to great lengths to hide disgusting parts of their processes. Take for example the regular saying that compares all types of processes to making sausage, which is apparently a fairly disgusting sight. For sausage, along with hot dogs, chicken strips, bologna, SPAM and most any other processed meat, would we eat it if we saw how it was made?

Probably not, or at least not as often. Similarly with snack products that use a lot of artificial colorings. If they came in whatever color they would be uncolored, would we be as anxious to eat that whole bag of processed cheese snacks?

To aid in further research of disgust, we’d like to suggest some things we find gross.

Things we find disgusting:

• Roadkill – the fresher it is, the worse it looks.

• Overflowing, clogged toilets.

• Anything that comes out of anyone’s nose.

• Male politicians who wear any of the following––hair gel, mousse, makeup, hair dye, gold necklaces or bracelets.

• Too big of people in too small of clothing.

• Public displays of affection.

• Most reality television programs.

• Rats, opossums, whether living or dead.

What do you find disgusting? Comment on our website, under the editorial section,


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