Disgust is that feeling you get when you see something yucky, like dog poop in the park, the product of some student’s tactical chunder on the sidewalk, or someone popping their pimple. (In research, we euphemistically call these “bodily effluvia”.) It’s a peculiar emotion because it’s unpleasant, very potent, and sometimes you feel it in your body.
Turns out, we actually feel disgust in our stomach! Our research has shown that normalisation of gastric rhythms also helps to reduce disgust avoidance. We measure avoidance using eye-tracking: a technique to follow where people are looking as we present them with disgusting images.
Our current work focusses on how disgust impacts the physiology of the brain and the stomach, and how this is impacted by different types of behavioural interventions and drugs. Ultimately, we hope to find a way to reduce disgust in people who feel like this would help them.
Aside from this experimental research, we also do computational work on the evolution of disgust. While disgust is not unique to humans, we do show a particularly strong avoidance. Selection pressures act on our genetic traits, but also on the cultural traditions that we inherit through social processes like learning and copying. Our current theory of how human disgust came to be, is through a combination of some biological (genetic) and more cultural evolution.
The following are papers that relate to disgust. You can find a full list of our peer-reviewed work on our publications page.
- Dalmaijer, E.S., Lee, A., Leiter, R., Brown, Z., & Armstrong, T. (2021). Forever yuck: Oculomotor avoidance of disgusting stimuli resists habituation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 150(8), p. 1598–1611. doi:10.1037/xge0001006
Preprint available via PsyArXiv, 36a4t. doi:10.31234/osf.io/36a4t
- Nord*, C.L., Dalmaijer*, E.S., Armstrong, T., Baker, K., & Dalgleish, T. (2021). A causal role for gastric rhythm in human disgust avoidance. Current Biology, 31, p. 1-6. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2020.10.087
- Armstrong, T., Stewart, J.G., Dalmaijer, E.S., Rowe, M., Danielson, S., Engel, M., Bailey, B., & Morris, M. (2020). I’ve seen enough! Prolonged and repeated exposure to disgusting stimuli increases oculomotor avoidance. Emotion, advance online publication. doi:10.1037/emo0000919
Preprint available via PsyArXiv, hgkpu, doi:10.31234/osf.io/hgkpu
Blog posts on our work
Because scientific articles are a bit dense, we try to write more easily digestible summaries on our blog. Please find a sampling below: