It is simply a basic emotion , synonymous with disgust , which is produced by the possible or obvious exposure to something repellent, harmful and polluting. Disgust is a fundamental emotion that protects human beings from pollution and disease.

This feeling involves cognitive, physiological and behavioral elements, elaborated throughout life and that fulfills an adaptive function , such as fear. For example, people distinguish a rotten food by its bad smell and immediately an emotion of refusal to eat it appears.

It implies the connotation of rejection

The rejection of bad food odors is associated with adaptive survival processes. The human being, under normal conditions, does not eat rotten food because it puts his health at risk .

Disgust is, in itself, a visceral emotion of warning . In general, the disgusting elements can be animals (or their components) or waste from their bodies, such as feces or urine, although there is a wide catalog of things that cause disgusting.

“Disgust” (disgust) in English means bad taste or taste , a term that carries precisely the significant load of the original (adaptive evolution), as opposed to consuming food and oral exposure of possible dangerous substances and the prevention of diseases.

Although not necessarily the rejection reaction is based on the taste, but rather on what is known about the conditions and origin of a potential food. For example, medicines and natural concoctions can taste bad; however, they are consumed without fear of harmful effects .

It is also a protective behavior

Such a sensation enables protective behaviors. Along with fear, disgust may be due to emotional reactions of phylogenetic origin .

Disgust and fear seem to manifest in unison in certain circumstances. The fear of being contaminated with a virus generates various types of behaviors , such as wearing masks and gloves so as not to have direct contact with people and their disgusting secretions, which carry the virus and the disease itself.

It could also be associated with inappropriate sexual behaviors . For example, disgust and disgust towards incest.

Characteristics and elements of disgust

As a basic emotion, it has differentiating elements, among which are:

  • Phenomenological : this element is fundamental because it is the activation itself of disgust. It is the immediate personal perception, as a sensible phenomenon , of emotion as such.

From the perception of the emotion of disgust there is a somatic response (nausea, for example), a behavioral response (facial expression and negative body reaction of rejection) and on a cognitive level (the person expresses concern about the symptoms ).

  • Physiological or somatic : Somatic responses such as vomiting and nausea to grossly disgusting objects and situations have been linked to the parasympathetic nervous system .

In disgust situations, salivation and gastrointestinal motility have been shown to increase, both reactions are the cause of nausea and vomiting. In addition, a reaction of the human body has been differentiated in the reduction of tension, blood pressure, respiratory flow and body temperature.

  • Behavioral : regarding the behavioral component, it has been determined that there is a common denominator between individuals. The expression of the face is characteristic, the reaction of escape or tendency to avoid it, which underlines the basic aspect of disgust as rejection of the stimulus .

Both mechanisms, facial expression and step back, determine a functional value of adaptation of the reactions of disgust. The subject protects himself from unwanted contact or ensures the essential distance from harmful or putrefactive substances, which could enter through the routes of taste or smell.

And if there is any oral contact, the physiological reaction of nausea and vomiting occurs immediately. Studies indicate that regardless of origin, nationality or culture, the facial expression of disgust is unique. Consequently, its adaptive phylogenetic origin should be assumed .

  • Cognitive: here the cognitive element plays an important role, since people can retain in memory episodes of beliefs about objects, things, situations, that produced disgust, even when there is no longer a certain reason for it. These beliefs have been put into two laws: the law of contagion and the law of similarity .

The first summarizes the fixed idea that every body that has been touched by another contaminated, will remain contaminated , even if it has been sterilized. The second indicates the ineffable emotion of disgust that an object would produce due to its formal similarity to another of a different nature. It is what they call the “magic contagion”. The disgust, for example, that a person would feel towards a cake because it resembles the excrement of an animal.

Studies on feelings of disgust

However, studies on these sensations have shown a more or less general response to the main stimuli of disgust . However, you could not make a clean sweep of all the automatic responses.

Phylogenetically there are universal responses , but the diversity of responses in this field, between and within cultures, should not be ignored. About what is disgusting or not, and the behaviors of the subjects to external stimuli.

In the field of human body odors and disgust the cultural burden is evident. The social behavior , the rating social, the customs and habits , have conditioned perceptions of what still being disgusting is socially accepted and assimilated.

More disgust considerations

Understanding that this emotion does not appear to be a one-color territory, three different linked dimensions should be noted , namely:

  • The “core disgust” or basic disgust
  • The “animal-reminder disgust” or the disgust of animal memory
  • Socio- moral disgust .

Socio-moral disgust appears in situations where moral or social norms are violated . It is observed more specifically in the transgression of personal dignity. Manifestations of this type abound in these times, such as those associated with racism , hypocrisy, disloyalty, incest, sexual abuse, homophobia, among others.

Contrary to the other expressions, socio-moral disgust depends on cultural norms and is commonly related to angry emotions rather than to feelings of fear or anxiety .

Ways in which disgust manifests itself

In general, individuals manifest it in different ways and these differences can be understood from two dimensions: those that are contextually established and the more general dimensions, which are not correlated to particular stimuli or objects .

A person’s sensitivity to disgust is related to symptoms and anxiety problems , specifically to fears and phobias of a group of animals (cockroaches, spiders, etc.), and to incitements related to blood and abuse, as well as to conflicts obsessive-compulsive character . It is understood in this case as a factor of vulnerability and is part of the origin and conservation of the disorders already mentioned.

Disgust as something pathological

Although this sensation is necessary as a vehicle for the preservation of human integrity and health, pathological disgust has been a subject of particular study on the part of psychology and psychiatry.

Pathological disgust cannot be understood as a simple irrational reaction . There are various contexts in which healthy subjects go through feelings of contagion, contamination and disgust without a reasonable cause .

This is how it is insufficient to justify pathological disgust as irrational reactions. Therefore, specialists have identified three criteria :

  1. The assessment of the perception of contamination should be exaggerated
  2. The response of disgust must manifest itself with obvious physical reactions or excessive reactive behaviors
  3. The subject does not stop in his excessive reactions despite being aware that there is really no probability of being contaminated physically, psychologically or morally. It is immovable in its beliefs .

The most recent research on sensitivity to disgust indicates that it can be related to other psychological disorders , such as bulimia, hypochondria (suggestion to suffer from diseases), social phobia , agoraphobia (obsessive fear of open spaces), among others .


When disgust is defined as a basic emotion, it is because it meets a series of requirements, common to other emotions, such as pleasure, joy , sadness , anger, surprise and fear.

Such emotions must have their own neural foundation, a specific typological reaction in the field of facial expression, involve specific and characteristic feelings, come from evolutionary traces, and possess qualities of character and adaptive function.

In short, the most recent discussions on the subject deal with basic emotions and their universality, obviously debatable, as has been seen. Clearly, there are characteristic concomitants in differentiated , generalized affective reactions , which tend to show a series of frequent traits in individuals.

Along with disgust, joy, sadness, anger, fear, etc. appear. As evidenced, this is characterized by a cluster of particular physiological or motor reactions , as well as by a behavior that can have an adaptive function.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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