Don’t Underestimate The Power of Disgust
Surprising ways the ‘yuck factor’ affects our brains, beliefs, and behavior
It turns out that you don’t need a thick self-help book in order to “change your thoughts.” All you need is a bottle of — wait for it — fart spray. Not a big vial either, just a small whiff of “real fart” smell. This is according to David Pizarro, professor of psychology at Cornell University, who investigated whether the smell of something disgusting could affect people’s judgment.
Pizarro’s experiment builds upon a growing body of research that shows disgust, once labeled the “forgotten emotion of psychiatry,” is far more influential in shaping our beliefs, bonds, and behavior than previously thought.
What is disgust?
Disgust is a universal emotion that bubbles up when we feel aversion toward something offensive or potentially contaminating. This can be something we perceive via our physical senses, actions or appearances, or even ideas and opinions.
As with other emotions, disgust has a range of states with varying intensities, from mild dislike to intense loathing:
While certain triggers for disgust are universal, for instance coming into contact with bodily products (vomit, phlegm/mucus, feces/diarrhea, blood) or animality (slugs, snakes, maggots, rats, and cockroaches), other triggers are more culturally or personally induced (types of food, perceived perversions).
Disgust has also been labeled the “body and soul” emotion because of its links to morality. Originally, disgust was thought to be a defense mechanism against a physical bodily threat: You eat a bad piece of meat and your body wants to throw it up, so you won’t die. But its purview broadened as we grew into a highly social species.