On Disgust

Haidt again, on disgust.

Gender had by far the largest effect, with women scoring at least 10 points higher on average than men in each of the four samples. However, the size of the gender difference varied considerably across domains.

But the remaining four domains — sex, personal hygiene, envelope violations, and death — seem to have little to do with oral defense. To explain why these domains elicit disgust, we turn to a theory first proposed by Rozin & Fallon (1987), that anything that reminds us that we are animals elicits disgust. We propose that core disgust has expanded through cultural evolution into a broader form of disgust we call animal-reminder disgust.

Humans cannot escape the evidence of their animal nature. In every society people must eat, excrete, and have sex. They bleed when cut, and ultimately they die and decompose. We propose that most cultures have found ways to “humanize” these activities, through rituals, customs, and taboos that serve to differentiate humans from animals. People who violate their local food and sex taboos risk being shunned and reviled by their peers, and in many cultures they are labelled as “animals”.

Thus we suggest that disgust is a defensive emotion that guards us against the recognition of our animality and, perhaps ultimately, of our own mortality.


Note Carpe Diem


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