Ever felt disgusted by creepy crawlers? How about open wounds? If yes, then that's good news. It's a sign that the body is avoiding harm.
Disgust has long been characterized as an emotion that helped our ancestors thwart infection. However, a new research suggests that the human disgust system is likely responsive to a lot of other things beyond just infection, including people, activities, and oddly shaped objects that potentially pose risks of disease.
Why It's Important To Feel Disgusted
The study marks the first time for researchers to look at disgust from a perspective of disease. It identifies six common types of triggers for the emotion, including poor hygiene, disease-carrying animals or insects, risky sexual behavior, skin conditions such as lesions or boils, rotting food, and deformities or atypical-looking objects.
The researchers say the findings could aid public health messaging. For example, it could be leveraged to encourage more people to wash their hands with soap.
The study, led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, was published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences.
It involved over 2,500 people who were given various scenarios that might be deemed disgusting to them. They had to rank each on a scale ranging from "no disgust" to "extreme disgust." Of all the scenarios provided, participants found infected wounds to be the most disgusting.
After analyzing all the participants' rankings, the researchers were then able to pick out the six most common triggers of disgust. Surprisingly, these triggers relate to infectious diseases that had to be dealt with on a regular basis.
As such, the results seem to confirm the so-called parasite avoidance theory in which animals evolved sharper feelings of disgust that helped them avoid threats of disease. According to the researchers, humans, meanwhile, often act in certain ways when they feel disgusted, which usually helps to avoid those threats.
"This type of disease avoidance behaviour is increasingly evident in animals, and so leads us to believe it is evolutionarily very ancient," said senior author Val Curtis.
When It Comes To Disgust, Men And Women Differ
The study also presents notable gender-based differences when it comes to ranking the disgusting triggers.
Interestingly, the female participants rated every scenario as more disgusting than the male participants did. The researchers believe this is because men, on average, are typically more willing to engage in riskier behavior than women.
Disgust And Phobias
Disgust, however, might also play a key role in a person's phobias. According to a separate study, there are links between specific phobias and disgust sensitivity, and that avoidance is one route by which disgust sensitivity can impact the etiology and maintenance of pathological fears.
While it says that disgust sensitivity is a poor indicator of avoidance behavior, it still consistently predicts avoidance.