Don’t Look, Don’t Touch! Brains and behaviour from a disgust perspective, by Valerie Curtis, Ph.D. | Source/complete article: Psychology Today.
Valerie Curtis, Ph.D., is a Disgustologist and Director of the Hygiene Centre at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Disgust Has Us in Its Grip – Five things disgust tells us about ourselves
Disgust is one of our most powerful emotions, it drives what we do in the privacy of our homes, as well as out in the world. It drives our most intimate habits, our social interactions and our moral judgement. Yet it’s still not very well understood. That’s a pity, because disgust can teach us a lot about ourselves. Here’s five things we can learn from disgust:
1. Brains are for behaviour.
You may think that your brain is for thinking, for cogitating, for solving problems. But thinking is only the icing on the cake. Brains evolved because they made the animals that were our ancestors behave in ways that got them what they needed. One fundamental need of all animals is to not get eaten. Hence all animals have behavioural strategies to keep safe from predators. The brain system that drives such behaviour is called FEAR. But it’s not just predators that want to eat you. Billions of microbes and parasites want a free meal and a free ride out of you too. The brain system that keeps us away from these micro-predators is called DISGUST. Our brains instinctively recognise yucky, smelly, sticky, contaminated stuff as potentially risky and the disgust system in the brain dictates the appropriate behaviour: ‘Don’t look, don’t touch, don’t eat!’ Brains evolved to make us do such tasks (others include nurturing, hoarding, pair bonding and status seeking) without invoking conscious, rational calculation. Our brains are for behaviour.
2. You are disgusting.
Unpleasant as it may be to contemplate, you are a walking mass of infectious material. You are home to billions of microbes, millions of worms and plenty of other parasitic creatures. You are therefore a disease threat to other people and, hence, you are disgusting. (So am I!). But being disgusting is a bit of a problem for a social species like ourselves. How to get all the benefits of cooperating with friends and acquaintances, alike, without turning them off you? The answer is simple – good manners. You learnt from your Mom and your mates at an early age not to wear stinky clothes, to breathe in someone’s face, to wee in their front room or to offer them your dirty towel. If you did they’d be disgusted, and you’d lose an ally. Because you are disgusting you have good manners and that’s how you tip the balance between being disgusting and being accepted as a member of society.