The Benefits of Being Disgusted

2500 people were asked which of the following type things were most disgusting:

* Your friend shows you a big, oozing lesion on his foot.

* Feeling something sticky on a door handle.

* You pour lumpy stale milk on your cereal.

* A hairless old cat rubs up against your leg.

* Watching a woman pick her nose

* On television you see someone eat a raw fish head.

* Seeing a cockroach run across your path. The study, published last week, found that anything involving open wounds with pus was number one. Foul body odor was number two.

According to the lead researcher of the British study, disgust is nature’s natural deterrent from things that are unhealthy. Disgust, though, goes beyond just the physical and can also include cultural triggers, says Dr. Jeffrey Spike, a medical ethicist with McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics at UT Health, and can include responses to others who are different, including racism and sexism, and examination of responses can lead to deeper understanding. “If you see something and it makes you wince and think it’s disgusting, don’t take that to mean it’s bad or to avoid it. Look into it, and ask yourself why you feel that way.”

Dr. Spike suggests avoidance of disgust can be taken to unhealthy levels. “It could lead to obsessive compulsive people who wash their hands constantly, they want to touch a door knob. They don’t want to share a glass with somebody. They become so afraid of germs they become phobic.”

The study’s authors say they hope to use what they’ve learned in advertising campaigns promoting cleanliness, including hand washing with soap in countries like India and Tanzania.

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