Why are we disgusted?

One of the most fascinating facts I discovered from my research in Easter was that disgust evolved to prevent us from contagious diseases. I’ve looked more into this today with this article:


  • Disgust is very powerful, and it is one of the deepest, most irrepressible instincts
  • One of the earliest scientific accounts of “disgust” is apparent in The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals by Charles Darwin. It recalls an expedition to South America, “I felt utter disgust at my food being touched by a naked savage, though his hands did not appear dirty”.
  • This lead Darwin to define disgust in three ways- it can be caused by different things like food and people, it is an emotion shared by radically diverse cultures, and what different cultures consider gross varies tremendously.
  • A frown can be shown when you are disgusted, or the body can push away or shield against the gross object/ person, or create sounds like “ugh” “ew”.
  • Disgust is simply our way of developing a primal response to harmful things, and it is a very explicit emotion

Sigmund Freud and other psychologists later observed that we are taught to see what is disgusting. Our primate cousins, like chimpanzees are not disgusted by anything, and some mammals routinely ingest their feces. In Law professor Ian Miller’s book, The Anatomy of Disgust, he claims “disgust marks the boundaries of culture and boundaries of self”.

I think there is also another interesting look on disgust with the test of three glasses of tap water. One is odourless, a harmless chemical but bitter to taste. The second contains a dose of arsenic. The third is sterile and has pure water, which used to have dog feces but has been washed thoroughly.

Paul Rozin, a psychology professor in University of Pennsylvania states that disgust is not reliant on sensory properties, but on the knowledge and nature of something. So disgust, is a “reaction to actual or imagined threats to ourselves”.

This is such a great topic which intrigues me a lot, and keeps my interests strong in FMP. I think I am drawn to this subject because I like a piece that causes a reaction, and even better if it is unexplained, and that the viewer does not even realise why they show disgust. Some may see my piece as comical, as the fingers are around the head, and that is bizarre. But others may be repulsed, because the gross textures will look so real, and provoke them to think, “what if my body can become this strange, and grotesque?” 

And if it is, maybe its not even scary. But I think this uncertainty of whether it is or not, is what we are scared of too, and therefore heightens our instinct of disgust more to avoid this answer.



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