Repulsion

Disgust

The feeling when you encounter something that you don’t want to get into contact with in any way (neither see, hear, feel, smell, or taste it), because you expect it is bad for you. You want to get it away from you.

You feel disgust towards something that you find repulsive. Examples of disgusting things are spoilt food, body products (e.g., blood, urine, and mucus), wounds, dead animals, and toxic substances. The emotion is associated with direct input from the five senses. It can be triggered by smell (e.g., a pungent odor), taste (e.g., a rotten taste), sight (e.g., brownish/grayish colors, certain shapes), sound (e.g., a slithery sound), and touch (e.g., sliminess). Disgust is, like fear, an emotion that is considered primordial and closely related to our physical survival. Its function is as important now as it was thousands of years ago: to keep us away from substances that may infect us or make us ill. Although the emotion itself is an innate reaction, the things that trigger it are mostly learned, and depend in part on cultural traditions and personal differences. For example, some cultures may find a certain food type (e.g., cow milk, or fermented beans) disgusting, while it is considered a delicacy in others.

Although disgust is most often considered an emotion towards physical objects, it can also be triggered by more abstract ‘things’ that one wants to keep away from. Examples of such things are ideas (e.g., repulsive political ideas), and behavior (e.g., certain sexual preferences or acts). The emotion in these cases is usually called ‘moral disgust’.

Disgusted people have the urge to reject, expel or remove the offensive object or substance, so that they will not get into (further) contact with it. This can even be seen in the facial expression of disgust: typically, people turn away their head and closes up the eyes, nostrils and mouth.

Movie clips

Typical expressions

“Yuck, what is this?!”

“Ew, get that away from me!”

Murphy's bad day

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Comparisons with other emotions

Disgust & Contempt

Disgust and contempt both cause someone to repulse the object of their emotion. The simplest distinction between them is that disgust is usually about physical objects (e.g., rotten food), whereas contempt is about human characteristics (e.g., incompetence). However, this changes when we include moral disgust in the comparison (see disgust explanation), which can also be about more abstract matters. Moral disgust and contempt can be difficult to distinguish. Some scholars propose that contempt is about social distinctions; traits that we have culturally learn to praise or condemn (such as greediness), whereas moral disgust is about deeper, more fundamental values that are ingrained in our biological makeup (such as chastity).