Are you disgusted?

Our primitive, animal brains carry many reflexes which are there to preserve our species and have stood us in good stead for many years.  One such reflex is the one that triggers our response of revulsion or disgust.  We are hardwired to avoid things which might infect us, poison us and things that threaten our ability to reproduce.  This underpins many of our social taboos about things like sexual mores, our response to things like maggots and rats etc.  Jonathan Haidt created a questionnaire to measure this response with questions such as:-

1. It bothers me to see someone in a restaurant eating messy food with his fingers.teeth
2. It would not upset me at all to watch a person with a glass eye take the eye out of the socket.
3. I never let any part of my body touch the toilet seat in public restrooms.
4. It would bother me to see a rat run across my path.
5. I think it is immoral to seek sexual pleasure from animals.
6. If I see someone vomit, it make me sick to my stomach.
7. I might be willing to try eating monkey meat, under some circumstances.
8. It would bother me to see a human hand preserved in a jar.
9. It would bother me tremendously to touch a dead body.
10.I probably would not go to my favourite restaurant if I found out that the cook had a cold.
11. It bothers me to hear someone clear a mucousy throat.
12. It would bother me to sleeping a nice hotel room if I knew that a man had died of a heart attack in that room the night before.

These days one can find any number of ‘disgusting’ things on the net; in fact it seems that some people derive their pleasure from ‘bucking’ these innate responses. 

It is fascinating to observe how many of our responses are hard-wired.  One of which, I suspect is to feel that Change is threatening…. unless of course, our current situation is more threatening.  This observation underpins the ‘burning platform’ school of change management.  If we want to bring about Change, we need to take account of our primitive programs.


“A woman can hide her love for 40 years, but her disgust and anger not for one day”   Arab Proverb

“If there is a God, the phrase that must disgust him is – holy war.”  Steve Allen

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2 Responses to “Are you disgusted?”

  1. Louis Sequeria says:

    One such reflex is the one that triggers our response of revulsion or disgust.

    I would disagree with the statement, even though that is the conclusion drawn by Dr Val Curtis in the Disgust Test.. Revulsion or disgust is something that we get conditioned into, it may develop into something that resembles a reflex action. A reflex action is a biological reaction, not related to any mental conditioning. It may be possible by mental conditioning to suppress a reflex action, not the other way around.

    In a BBC program Claudia Hammond explains it as “a unique emotion that has evolved to control our gut reactions to bodily fluids and prevent us from coming in contact with disease.”, but at the same time Harvard Professor Marc Hauser has discovered that, animals do not have the disgust response.

    For example, many children are ‘disgusted’ with food such as spinach, broccoli etc., it is in no way related to a reflex, nor is it a “gut reaction” to prevent us from a disease, it is an entirely different set of reasoning involved.

  2. Louis

    I claim no expertise here and agree that social conditioning is definitely a factor, as is loose language, saying “That’s disgusting!” when you just mean you don’t like it. Our cats regularly will consume food they have sicked up and dogs eat dung. I suspect that there is a both and answer here rather than an either or one, but I thank you for the additional dimension you have brought to this.

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