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Nobody likes to feel disgust, but feeling disgust for certain things also has its benefits.
According to scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), intense emotions such as disgust and repulsion are evolutionary responses we have developed to protect ourselves from pathogens and other types of infectious threats.
“Although we already knew that feeling disgust is good for us, thanks to this study we have been able to verify that the system of human disgust is structured around people, practices and objects that present a risk of illness”, says the expert in Disgusting Val Curtis.
The scientists interviewed more than 2,500 people and gave them a choice of 75 potentially disgusting scenarios, such as sitting next to someone with an obvious infection in the eye , using another person’s deodorant by mistake, or noticing small red dots on the genitals . your partner.
Listening to someone defecate, feeling the licking of a stray dog or sitting next to a person who is vomiting in an airplane were also some of the options to choose.
The participants had to rate each case from “it is little disgusting” to “it is very disgusting”.
The six categories
The scientists analyzed the responses and identified the six cases that produce the most disgust among people.
These are: physical evidence of unhygienic behavior , animals or insects such as cockroaches or mice, promiscuous sexual behaviors , people with atypical appearances , infected wounds or injuries and seeing or smelling expired food.
Of all the options to choose, the infected wounds that produce pus were rated as the most disgusting.
The study also shows that violating hygiene standards, such as having a bad body odor, is considered particularly unpleasant.
The results also indicate that women feel more disgust towards these six categories than men.
In particular, women considered promiscuous sexual behaviors and animals with infections particularly repugnant.
One of the most striking results is the disgust towards people who have atypical appearances .
Disgust expert Val Curtis explained to the BBC that each category is related to threats that frequently occurred in our past.
Historically, eating rotten foods could result in an outbreak of cholera, while contact with unhygienic people could transmit leprosy.
Promising sexual practices could put you at risk for syphilis and contact with open wounds could make you sick with plague or smallpox.
Val Curtis explains that people of different appearance, for example with deformities, in the past, implied that they could transmit infectious diseases. In fact, we subconsciously continue to relate certain physical appearances with risks of infection.
“The other day I was on the train when I saw a woman with a very striking rash and the seat next to her was empty, it is an instinctive reaction, because diseases such as leprosy have been eradicated and this person has no risk of infection ” , explains the expert.
It is for this reason that it is beneficial to know what disgusts us and why.
The scientists point out that these results could help when designing public health strategies, for example to encourage hand washing with soap or to counteract the stigma associated with certain deformities.
“It is very important that we understand how these emotions work,” says expert Val Curtis.
“If we identify what promotes disgust, we can have a real impact on people’s health.”