The yuck factor: The surprising power of disgust
2012 07 30

By Alison George | NewScientist.com

From politics to commerce to sex, the "forgotten emotion" of disgust can affect you in subtle ways

David Pizarro can change the way you think, and all he needs is a small vial of liquid. You simply have to smell it. The psychologist spent many weeks tracking down the perfect aroma. It had to be just right. "Not too powerful," he explains. "And it had to smell of real farts."

It’s no joke. Pizarro needed a suitable fart spray for an experiment to investigate whether a whiff of something disgusting can influence people’s judgements.

His experiment, together with a growing body of research, has revealed the profound power of disgust, showing that this emotion is a much more potent trigger for our behaviour and choices than we ever thought. The results play out in all sorts of unexpected areas, such as politics, the judicial system and our spending habits. The triggers also affect some people far more than others, and often without their knowledge. Disgust, once dubbed "the forgotten emotion of psychiatry", is showing its true colours.


Disgust is experienced by all humans, typically accompanied by a puckered-lipped facial expression. It is well established that it evolved to protect us from illness and death. "Before we had developed any theory of disease, disgust prevented us from contagion," says Pizarro, based at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. The sense of revulsion makes us shy away from biologically harmful things like vomit, faeces, rotting meat and, to a certain extent, insects.

Disgust’s remit broadened when we became a supersocial species. After all, other humans are all potential disease-carriers, says Valerie Curtis, director of the Hygiene Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "We’ve got to be very careful about our contact with others; we’ve got to mitigate those disease-transfer risks," she says. Disgust is the mechanism for doing this - causing us to shun people who violate the social conventions linked to disgust, or those we think, rightly or wrongly, are carriers of disease. As such, disgust is probably an essential characteristic for thriving on a cooperative, crowded planet.

Yet the idea that disgust plays a deeper role in people’s everyday behaviour emerged only recently. It began when researchers decided to investigate the interplay between disgust and morality. One of the first was psychologist Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, who in 2001 published a landmark paper proposing that instinctive gut feelings, rather than logical reasoning, govern our judgements of right and wrong.

Haidt and colleagues went on to demonstrate that a subliminal sense of disgust - induced by hypnosis - increased the severity of people’s moral judgements about shoplifting or political bribery, for example (Psychological Science, vol 16, p 780). Since then, a number of studies have illustrated the unexpected ways in which disgust can influence our notions of right and wrong.

[...]


Read the full article at: newscientist.com






Related Articles
Swallowable Perfume Makes Your Sweat Smell Nice
That ’old book’ smell - Know what it reveals?
Space Sights and Smells Surprise Rookie Astronauts


Latest News from our Front Page

CIA torture is reason for France to exit NATO – Le Pen
2014-12-17 20:20
The shocking revelations of CIA torture techniques give France a reason to exit NATO, National Front party leader Marine Le Pen said on Saturday. The report on the CIA’s former interrogation practices has drawn wide criticism since its release. “If indeed everyone is outraged by the tortures used by the US then, let’s leave NATO,” Le Pen said during an interview ...
900 Documented Examples of Obama's Lawbreaking, Lying, Corruption, Cronyism, Hypocrisy & Waste
2014-12-17 20:00
By Tim Brown from sonsoflibertymedia.com: Our friend, Dan from Squirrel Hill, has updated his list to 900 documented examples of Barack Obama¡¯s lying, lawbreaking, corruption, cronyism, etc. He began with 252 examples, then quickly grew to 504 and later to 694. Recently, he added more than 200 more examples of the usurper-in-chief¡¯s unlawful acts. Every President, every politician, and every human ...
A Step Closer to the Mysterious Origin of the Viking Sword Ulfberht
2014 12 16
The universe is full of mysteries that challenge our current knowledge. In "Beyond Science" Epoch Times collects stories about these strange phenomena to stimulate the imagination and open up previously undreamed of possibilities. Are they true? You decide. Ulfberht was like a Medieval luxury brand for swords—but unlike your Gucci purse, the swords were of such high quality they were almost ...
Israel proposes natural gas pipeline to Southern Europe
2014-12-16 12:39
Israel is pushing for the European Union (EU) to approve the construction of a pipeline running from the Middle Eastern country to supply Cyprus, Greece and Italy with natural gas. The proposed EastMed pipeline will carry gas from the Tamar and Leviathan gas fields located in the Mediterranean Sea, to Southern Europe. As the Times of Israel reported in an ...
As Robots Grow Smarter, American Workers Struggle to Keep Up
2014 12 16
A machine that administers sedatives recently began treating patients at a Seattle hospital. At a Silicon Valley hotel, a bellhop robot delivers items to people’s rooms. Last spring, a software algorithm wrote a breaking news article about an earthquake that The Los Angeles Times published. Although fears that technology will displace jobs are at least as old as the Luddites, there ...
More News »