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That's Disgusting: Unraveling the…
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That's Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion (2012)

by Rachel Herz

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Psychologist Rachel Herz presents a detailed exploration of the emotion of disgust: what happens in our brains and bodies when something repulses us, the extent to which disgust is cultural or innate, what kinds of things most commonly disgust us and why, and what implications our capacity for disgust and the ways it can be triggered might have for individuals and society.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this book. The topic is a deeply interesting one, and Herz raises all kinds of really thought-provoking questions about our reactions, both rational and irrational, to things that make us go, "Yuck!" And some of the specifics she gets into are absolutely fascinating. For instance, I was surprised to discover that disgust is something that needs to be learned; it doesn't show up in very small children. Which, now that I think about it, probably explains quite a few things about very small children. It also makes perfect sense; which of the things we encounter are wholesome and which are dangerous is something that's going to vary a lot in different places and circumstances, so it's actually quite useful if our instincts about what to avoid and what to approach are programmable, so to speak, rather than hard-wired.

Unfortunately, though, I think this book is flawed, as a lot of books of this nature are, in that the author seems to let her conclusions get ahead of the actual science. For example, she asserts some rather simplistic evolutionary explanations for some rather complex phenomena without necessarily backing them up very well. She also, rather surprisingly, mixes in a fair bit of Freudian psychology, which isn't particularly scientific at all. So it seems to me to be a good idea to take most of her more sweeping and general statements with a fairly large grain of salt.

Also, a warning: Being as it's about the nature of disgust, this book necessarily talks about a lot of truly disgusting things. I really do not recommend reading it while eating. Especially if, like me, you rank a bit high on the "easily disgusted scale." (You can assess your own disgust-level ranking with a handily provided quiz early in the book.) ( )
1 vote bragan | Apr 30, 2014 |
A fascinating and frequently entertaining look at the factors, both cultural and instinctual, that trigger the complex human emotion of disgust. ( )
  Sullywriter | Apr 3, 2013 |
I gave up on this book on the page where the author first explains that disgust is the emotion that separates normal people from Jeffrey Dahmer and then goes on to state that Asians are worse at recognizing disgust than Europeans. Nice. ( )
  jen.e.moore | Mar 30, 2013 |
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My fascination with disgust was ignited in the spring of 1995 in a seminar led by Paul Rozin, "the father of disgust in psychology," at the University of Pennsylvania. (Preface)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393076474, Hardcover)

An entertaining and revealing look at the science behind the emotion of disgust.

Disgust originated to prevent us from eating poisonous food, but this simple safety mechanism has since evolved into a uniquely human emotion that dictates how we treat others, shapes our cultural norms, and even has implications for our mental and physical health. That’s Disgusting illuminates the science behind disgust, tackling such colorful topics as cannibalism, humor, and pornography to address larger questions: Why do sources of disgust vary among people and societies? Where does disgust come from in our brain and what deeper fears does it reflect? How does disgust influence our individual personalities, our daily lives, and our values? It turns out that disgust underlies more than we realize, from political ideologies to the lure of horror movies. Drawing on surprising research in psychology and evolutionary biology, That’s Disgusting shows us that disgust mirrors human nature and, as a result, is as complex and varied as we are.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:52 -0400)

Disgust originated to prevent humans from eating poisonous food, but this simple safety mechanism has since evolved into a uniquely human emotion that dictates how people treat others, shapes cultural norms, and even has implications for mental and physical health. This book illuminates the science behind disgust, tackling such colorful topics as cannibalism, humor, and pornography to address larger questions including why sources of disgust vary among people and societies and how disgust influences individual personalities, daily lives, and values. It turns out that disgust underlies more than we realize, from political ideologies to the lure of horror movies.… (more)

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