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This page Disgust is part of the disgust series. Illustration: The Bitter Potion  (c. 1635) by Adriaen Brouwer
This page Disgust is part of the disgust series.
Illustration: The Bitter Potion (c. 1635) by Adriaen Brouwer

"The art of procreation and the members employed therein are so repulsive, that if it were not for the beauty of the faces and the adornments of the actors and the pent-up impulse, nature would lose the human species."--The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci

"I could see the dark side of this ethic too: once you allow visceral feelings of disgust to guide your conception of what God wants, then minorities who trigger even a hint of disgust in the majority (such as homosexuals or obese people) can be ostracized and treated cruelly. The ethic of divinity is sometimes incompatible with compassion, egalitarianism, and basic human rights." Footnote: "Martha Nussbaum (2004) has made this case powerfully, in an extended argument with Leon Kass, beginning with Kass 1997."

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Disgust is an emotion that is typically associated with things that are perceived as unclean, inedible, or infectious. In The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Charles Darwin wrote that disgust refers to something revolting. Primarily in relation to the sense of taste, as actually perceived or vividly imagined; and secondarily to anything which causes a similar feeling, through the sense of smell, touch, and even of eyesight. Disgust is one of the basic emotions of Robert Plutchik's theory of emotions.

Disgust may be further subdivided into physical disgust, associated with physical or metaphorical uncleanness, and moral disgust, a similar feeling related to courses of action.

Disgust is one of the basic emotions of Robert Plutchik's theory of emotions and has been studied extensively by Paul Rozin. It invokes a characteristic facial expression, one of Paul Ekman's six universal facial expressions of emotion. Unlike the emotions of fear, anger, and sadness, disgust is associated with a decrease in heart rate.


Purity and pollution

Disgust is thought to have its origins in (and in some cases to be identical to) instinctive reactions that evolved as part of natural selection for behavior which tended to prevent food poisoning, or exposure to danger or infection. Disgust is frequently associated with waste products such as feces or urine, secretions from the human body (such as mucus), and with decomposing flesh, and insects associated with it.

As in other human instinctual drives, disgust has an instinctual and a socially constructed aspect. Religious concepts of purity and pollution underlie various systems of taboo food and drink, such as the Jewish rules of kashrut and the Islamic distinction between halal and haram foods. Mary Douglas's 1966 book Purity and Danger attempted to ascribe these rules not to health or ecological reasons as some had hypothesized before, but rather to attempts to maintain symbolic boundaries: the forbidden and unkosher animals were not eaten because their place in the natural order was felt to be ambiguous, "neither fish nor fowl". Believers in food taboos feel that they may be contaminated by exposure to forbidden foods, regardless of their consumption by others or standards of preparation, and can manifest all of the physical and emotional symptoms of disgust at their presence.

Disgust and shame

Martha Nussbaum, a leading American philosopher, wrote a book published in 2004 entitled Hiding From Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law which examines the relationship of disgust and shame to a society's laws.

A recent study found that women and children were more sensitive to disgust than men. Researchers attempted to explain this finding in evolutionary terms. While some find wisdom in adhering to one's feelings of disgust, some scientists have asserted that "reactions of disgust are often built upon prejudices that should be challenged and rebutted."

Perception of disgust

Huntington's disease

Many patients suffering from Huntington's disease, a genetically transmitted progressive neurodegenerative disease, are unable to recognize expressions of disgust in others and also don't show reactions of disgust to foul odors or tastes. The inability to recognize disgust in others appears in carriers of the Huntington gene already before the disease has broken out.


See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Disgust" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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