The Interpretation of Human Disgust, in Relation to the Disgust Scale

Topics: Disgust, Morality Pages: 6 (1802 words) Published: January 9, 2013
The Interpretation of Human Disgust, in Relation to
the Disgust Scale


This report was based on prior work by Rozin et al, in relation to how it is that humans perceive disgust. The objectives were to conduct an individual measures design experiment in order to see how disgust intensity varied between the sub scales used by Rozin, Haidt, & McCauley’s Disgust Scale (2000). The Participants used were mainly University undergraduates. This was done with the use of a questionnaire, including three photographs that could potentially trigger a disgust response in an individual, followed with four open questions to assist each one. The reason behind the methodology of using open questions was in order to gain qualitative data from each participant. The independent variable was the sub-scale of disgust used, this included Core, Interpersonal and Death, and the dependant variable was level of disgust shown. For this reason, the three photographs represented on of the three sub-scales, including photos of cockroaches on food (core), a obese naked man (interpersonal) and a dead man (death). The results showed that participants responded strongest to the Interpersonal sub-scale, followed by the Core, and that the Death sub-scale instead triggered feelings of sadness and empathy.


This report is regarding humans and their feelings of disgust upon viewing certain images. Disgust is a negative emotion felt upon sensing an unpleasant stimulus. This could be any item regarded as infectious, dirty or inedible by the individual. Darwin, focusing more on food-related disgust, described disgust as “in its simplest sense, means something offensive to the taste. It is curious how readily this feeling is excited by anything unusual in the appearance, odour or nature of our food.” (C. Darwin, 1872). There are three main approaches used to attempt to explain the reason humans feel disgusted at certain stimuli, and these will be outlined below.

The Biological approach states that feeling disgusted is an evolutionary response. This response is designed to prevent us from ingesting, inhaling or touching potentially harmful pathogens, and therefore increasing our chance of survival. An example of this is that an individual’s disgust response would prevent the human from ingesting gone off meat, which would be infested with bacteria, germs and parasites. This would prevent, or at best severely decrease the likelihood of the person contracting any disease from the meat, which could potentially kill them.

The Anthropological approach states that disgust is learned from social conditioning. Young children happily place objects found on the floor such as toys and dirt, into their mouth without any issue. When a carer observes this occurring, they attempt to negatively reinforce the behaviour in the infant. This is done to decrease the likelihood of the behaviour continuing in the future, and therefore to protect the child. The fact that people from different cultures find different stimuli disgusting, would suggest that conditioning and cultural factors do play a role in the disgust response.

The Psychological approach observes the individual differences in human disgust. Issues such as age and gender affect what kind of objects are viewed as disgusting and what is not. This has led to developmental research being conducted by psychologists, and the creation of ways to gauge the morals of people. Most notable is Paul Rozin et al’s creation of the Disgust scale, which this study was conducted in relation to, as explained below.

Paul Rozin is a key psychologist related to the research regarding disgust. By observing both children and adults, he has concluded that disgust is not purely either biological or social based, and instead is a mix of both nature and nurture. His scale is a questionnaire involving 32 statements that measures a person’s views on certain potentially disgusting scenarios, and how intense...

References: Darwin, C. (1872 orig.). The expression of the emotions in man and animals. (3rd Ed.) New York: Oxford University Press. 1998, pp. 296-297
Haidt, J., McCauley, C., & Rozin, P. (1994). Individual differences in sensitivity to disgust: a scale sampling seven domains of disgust elicitors. Personality and individual Differences, 16: 701-713.
Rozin, P. and Fallon, A. (1987) A perspective on disgust. Psychological Review, 94, 23-41.
Rozin, P., Haidt, J., & McCauley, C. R. (2000). Disgust. In M. Lewis & J. Haviland (Eds.). Handbook of emotions, second edition, New York: Guilford. pp. 637–653.
Fig. 1
Disgust Questionnaire
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