Chapter 10: Disgust

Summary of Disgust

In the first part of the chapter, we discussed the four types of disgust: core, animal-nature, interpersonal, and moral.  Researchers believe these four types developed in our ancestral past and helped our genes to survive by protecting our bodies from harm or by maintaining social order.  Evidence for universality is facial expressions and behavior change does exist, although the action units associated with disgust vary according to the type of disgust.  Evidence from Mwani, Trobriander, and Himba cultures do suggest that at least in isolated tribes, disgust is not seen as a distinct emotion.  Evidence for SNS and/or PNS activation during a disgust experience exists.  In general, SNS activation occurs for moral disgust, whereas PNS activation occurs for physical or core-related disgust.  Some have suggested that PNS or SNS activation depends on whether we consume the disgusting object or whether the disgust object is a threat in our external world.  Some have suggested the consuming a disgusting object causes PNS activation – which would function to shut down our system and to reject the poisonous object.  Conversely, disgusting objects in our external worlds, such as an immoral individual, might heighten our arousal and activate the SNS system to encourage us to avoid the threat.  These changes map onto Russell’s view that subjective feelings of disgust are moderately, unpleasant.  Watson and Tellegen (1985) take the view that disgust is a highly arousing, negative emotion – which fits more within the view that disgust activates the SNS system.

The putamen and insula are two brain structures that play a role in physical and moral disgust.  But, it important to note other emotions activate these structures as well.  Also, remember that when discussing S.M. in the fear chapter, we saw that S.M. experienced difficulty recognizing disgust expressions – suggesting the amygdala plays a role in disgust too.

Finally, the CAD Triad hypothesis suggests contempt, anger, and disgust are similar because they all deal with moral violations that other people commit.  This model also suggests that the CAD emotions are often experienced together as mixed emotions.  But, the model also implies that our interpretation of how someone or ourselves was violated determines the emotion we experience.  Overall, this study provided initial evidence that anger and disgust are universally associated with autonomy and divinity violations.


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