That's Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

We all know the sensation: We open the refrigerator and wince instantly at the smell of rancid food. Or we shiver involuntarily at the sight of a gory scene on a DVD. Repulsion is such a universal response that few of us ponder its cause or its use. Rachel Herz, the author of this book previously explored more alluring emotions in The Scent of Desire. Now she turns her attention to what repulses us.

Vicki Powers

Library Journal
An expert on smell, Herz (psychiatry, Brown Univ.; The Scent of Desire: Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell) leads a tour of off-putting stimuli that reach us mainly through sight, smell, touch, and taste. Her focus is the last emotion to develop of the universal six: fear, anger, sadness, happiness, surprise, and disgust. Feeling disgust and recognizing it in others helps us avoid accidents, contamination, and other dangers. Sometimes it misfires, e.g., we react more to harmless spiders than to mosquitoes and flies. The brain locus of disgust is now known, as is the absence of this normal reaction in obsessive compulsives, psychopaths, and those with the gene for Huntington's disease. Herz reports many examples of crime, politics, and policy but not the grossness of war and resultant post-traumatic stress disorder. VERDICT Not for the squeamish. A lively, quotable survey of how a specific emotion works for and against our benefit. Accessible to general readers, but the book could be better organized and more clearly written.—E. James Lieberman, George Washington Univ. Sch. of Medicine, Washington, DC
Kirkus Reviews
Herz (Psychology/Brown Univ.; The Scent of Desire, 2007) examines the strange world of disgust and discovers that, to a large extent, it's all in the mind of the beholder. "The emotion of disgust is universal," writes the author, "but it is not innate; disgust has to be learned and is subject to a myriad of influences." If the most elemental purpose of disgust is to engender an avoidance of rotten and toxic food, it mostly arises from our cultural heritage and those pockets of the brain that remind us of our mortality and animalistic selves. Herz closely hews to current research on disgust, but she also salts the narrative with anecdotal material and intriguing vignettes, which gives the book a high entertainment factor as she wades through the scientific matter. The author tackles aspects of both physical and moral disgust and convincingly finds in them a protective impulse--"disgust is a type of fear--a special type of fear that evolved to help us evade a slow and uncertain death by disease." Moral disgust is a more slippery character, with all the illogical reasons we deploy to find something immoral, though Herz suggests that moral repulsion isn't only a threat: "More abstractly, but just as ominous, being around the badness of immoral people might sully your inner, spiritual self or soul." She touches down on food and lust, self-empathy and how disgust piques our curiosity of that ultimate mystery, death. Finally, she notes that disgust is a luxury, an embarrassment of our riches: When survival is at stake, we will eat anything, mate with anyone and enlist anyone's support. "The greatest pleasures are only narrowly separated from disgust," said Cicero. In this multifaceted book, Herz expertly walks that tightrope.
Robin Marantz Henig
…a lively look at all things revolting…[Herz] manages…to be vivid and true to her subject without getting so revolting that her readers react the way we react to anything that disgusts us, which is by trying to get as far away as possible.
—The New York Times Book Review
Becky Krystal
Herz seems to have a perfect example for nearly every type of disgust you can imagine: sexual, medical, gustatory, etc. Her strengths as a researcher and author are apparent in her ability to cite and explain academic studies in a conversational manner.
—The Washington Post
“In her lively tour of vileness, Herz argues that disgust is in the mind of the beholder.”
New Scientist
“Leaves you contemplating how your own sense of disgust may be manipulated, or even overcome.”
Washington Post
[Herz's] strength as a researcher and author are apparent in her ability to cite and explain academic studies in a conversational manner.— Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal - Washington Post
“[Herz's] strength as a researcher and author are apparent in her ability to cite and explain academic studies in a conversational manner.”
Robin Marantz Henig
“...[Herz] manages it quite admirably: to be vivid and true to her subject without getting so revolting that her readers react the way we react to anything that disgusts us, which is by trying to get as far away as possible.”
“In her lively tour of vileness, Herz argues that disgust is in the mind of the beholder.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393076479
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/23/2012
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,094,746
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Rachel Herz teaches at Brown University. She is the author of The Scent of Desire and regularly consults on the psychology of smell for multinational companies and as an expert witness.
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Table of Contents

Preface ix

1 Let's Eat 1

2 A Snapshot of Disgust 28

3 Disgust on the Brain 58

4 Germ Warfare 77

5 Disgust Is Other People 102

6 Horror Show 132

7 Lust and Disgust 156

8 Law and Order 184

9 Disgust Lessons 210

Acknowledgments 235

Notes 237

Illustration Credits 263

Index 265

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2012


    Eeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwww Phoenix!!!!! How could Rachelle do this to you?????

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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