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Disgust? You Can’t Miss It! It’s right there on your face!

WHEN CANCER DESTROYED MY CHEEKBONE, surgeons removed half my face and then propped it up with left over pieces. But I could still make THAT FACE.

You know the face. DISGUST! And it's disgusting.

It’s the signature expression of Roman water spouts and Medieval gargoyles. It's the face of the ethically dubious electro-physiological experiments by the slightly looney Victorian G-B Duchenne, unorthodox but referenced by serious scientists like Charles Darwin.

A stone gargoyle in Leipzig, study subjects of Charles Darwin and others. Looks like someone's gonna hurl, right?

DISGUST is a basic human emotion, and one of six universal facial expressions common to all genders and races, across all cultures, from infancy to the end of life—and universally recognizable. Triggered by an offense to the senses of taste and smell, that DISGUST expression accompanies physical nausea, which is part of the body's effort to expel poisonous substances—rotting flesh, say, fecal matter, or insects in food. DISGUST is thought to be evolved in humans as a “poison guard,” preventing us, by instinct, from swallowing anything that would otherwise poison us.

In The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1870), Darwin described the expression of disgust as “movements identical with those [used in] the act of vomiting.” In his own small children Darwin observed the face of disgust:

Photo: Jeff Brown

· wrinkled nose

· lower lip protruded and everted

· mouth opened

· upper lip strongly retracted

A century later, psychologists Paul Ekman et al. published the Facial Action Coding System (FACS, 1970), a taxonomy of human facial expression, where the same disgust face becomes:

Ekman, Disgust

· [Action Unit 10 + 15]

· [AU 9]

· [AU 7]

· [AU 41]

Disgust is one of the most powerful human emotions

In That’s Disgusting; Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion, psychologist Rachel Herz writes that disgust is a “cognitive emotion…” It registers in the brain’s amygdala and cerebellum. It’s a sensory response and an emotion. Maggotty meat, for example, is physically nauseating, and in turn, emotionally revolting. Science writer Kathleen McAuliffe calls it The Yuck Factor. And although universally experienced, disgust is not innate, but learned, and culturally conditioned. That is, we can all be disgusted, but we’re not all disgusted by the same things.

But so what? Why should we care about disgust—how it looks, or what brings it on?

Disgust can make you think everything stinks

Candidates 2020
What are these faces telling us about some of the Americans who would like to be our next President?

Disgustologist Valerie Curtis writes that DISGUST is one of our most powerful emotions, driving “our most intimate habits...our social interactions and our moral judgement.”

Check out the subset of neuropsychology called DISGUSTOLOGY. It’s a real thing. And in the fraught season of Campaign 2020, we’re going to be seeing this facial expression A LOT.


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