Freeing ourselves from the “yuck” emotion…

Posted on Posted in well-being

Reading through the studies on it, found a rather poetical approach that kind of says it all: “disgust is a voice in our heads, it is the voice of our ancestors telling us to avoid infectious disease and social parasites. The voice of emotion is there for a reason, it guides us to behave in ways that are good for our genes, or more precisely, to behave in ways that were good for the genes of our ancestors. But we no longer live in the environments in which we evolved, and emotion is not the only voice in our heads.”

So maybe this is the one emotion that we’d actually be better of without?

On the bright side, sensitivity to disgust is negatively correlated with aggression (as it typically brings about a need to withdraw, while aggression results in a need to approach) and leads to finding their own in-group more attractive  – but on the flip side, it does lead to have more negative attitudes toward other groups…and if you add up the fact that social conditioning plays a role in it (different cultures find different things disgusting), voila, your recipe for socio-moral prejudice and discrimination! Which, by the way, is educated and perpetuated 🙁

The ability to quickly respond to the Stroop test predicts the ability to suppress disgust and be polite. This has led researchers to conclude that there is a clear correlation between the ability to behave appropriately and the ability to block unwanted information; basically etiquette is often about filtering yourself.

The problem is that one’s instant judgement about morality are experienced as flashes of intuition and operate rapidly, associatively, outside of consciousness; since disgust sensitivity is associated with moral hyper-vigilance and it can exclude people from being a part of a clique by leading to the view that they are merely less than human (there are two forms of dehumanization: denial of uniquely human traits and denial of human nature – emotionality and personality), thus reducing the moral concern towards excluding members from the outer group (moral avoidance)

Seems like we’re trapped into an evolutionary design that now moves against “modern” social needs…

So what do you do if your gene-driven response is towards disgust rather than aggressiveness when you feel endangered? And by the way, a mild form of disgust is boredom…

Here are some ideas:

  • The way to “undisgust” yourself is unfortunately to expose yourself to the object of your aversion until you reach the point where you can tolerate it without flinching. You’re disgusted by the boiled tomatoes in  your soup  but want to eat healthier food? Or maybe you’re disgusted by things you find in your bathroom’s corners when you clean it up but want to stay away from diseases? The only way around it is to hang in there until your unconscious mind’s avoidance signals are bypassed by the slower rational thoughts…

 

  • We are also often disgusted by other people – their “alien” behaviors and habits. Surprisingly in these cases, if we instead become empathetic towards the source of aversion we can undue disgust – not only due to repeated exposure (see above), but it is also because empathy and disgust are fundamentally linked. Both emotions are processed in the same part of the brain-the anterior insula-and both are very much about the self and about protecting the self from discomfort. Basically disgust = self-empathy for the horrible experience we have with those “aliens”. The workaround solution is to simply educate yourself to feel a generalized empathy (I find the Loving-Kindness meditation to be a simple & effective tool everyone can use!).

The bottom line is that we can control disgust, and use it or lose it. An unpleasant trip towards freedom from world’s limitation, I might say…