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.
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:
· wrinkled nose
· lower lip protruded and everted
· mouth opened
· upper lip strongly retracted
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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?