Animals as disgust elicitors
This paper attempts to explain how and why nonhuman animals elicit disgust in human beings. I argue that animals elicit disgust in two ways. One is by triggering disease–protection mechanisms, and the other is by eliciting mortality salience, or thoughts of death. I discuss how these two types of disgust operate and defend their conceptual and theoretical coherence against common objections. I also outline an explanatory challenge for disgust researchers. Both types of disgust indicate that a wide variety of animals produce aversive and avoidant reactions in human beings. This seems somewhat odd, given the prominence of animals in human lives. The challenge, then, is explaining how humans cope with the presence of animals. I propose, as a hypothesis for further exploration, that we cope with animals, and our disgust responses to them, by attributing mental states that mark them as inferior beings. To develop my proposal, I draw from recent research on dehumanization and infrahumanization.