Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 167–185 | Cite as

Animals as disgust elicitors

Article

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Disgust Mortality salience Animal reminder Terror management theory Dehumanization 

References

  1. Ariely D, Loewenstein G (2006) The heat of the moment: the effect of sexual arousal on sexual decision making. J Behav Decis Mak 19:87–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arndt J, Cook A, Goldenberg JL, Cox CR (2007) Cancer and the threat of death: the cognitive dynamics of death thought suppression and its impact on behavioral health intentions. J Pers Soc Psychol 92:12–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barreiro LB, Quintana-Murci L (2010) From evolutionary genetics to human immunology: how selection shapes host defence genes. Nat Rev Genet 11:17–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beatson RM, Halloran MJ (2007) Humans rule! The effects of creatureliness reminders, mortality salience and self-esteem on attitudes towards animals. Br J Soc Psychol 46:619–632CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beatson RM, Loughnan S, Halloran MJ (2009) Attitudes toward animals: the effect of priming thoughts of human-animal similarities and mortality salience on the evaluation of companion animals. Soc Anim 17:72–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Becker E (1971) The birth and death of meaning, 2nd edn. Free Press, NewYorkGoogle Scholar
  7. Becker E (1973) The denial of death. Free Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. Becker E (1975) Escape from evil. Free Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Boccato G, Capozza D, Falvo R, Durante F (2008) The missing link: ingroup, outgroup, and the human species. Soc Cogn 26:224–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Borg C, de Jong PJ (2012) Feelings of disgust and disgust-induced avoidance weaken following induced sexual arousal in women. PLoS ONE 7:e44111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Buckels E, Trapnell P (2013) Disgust facilitates outgroup dehumanization. Group processes intergroup relations 16:771–780CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Burke BL, Martens A, Faucher EH (2010) Two decades of terror management theory: a meta-analysis of mortality salience research. Personal Soc Psychol Rev 14:155–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Carver CS, White TL (1994) Behavioral inhibition, behavioral activation, and affective responses to impending reward and punishment: the BIS/BAS scales. J Pers Soc Psychol 67:319–333CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Comas I, Coscolla M, Luo T, Borrell S, Holt KE, Kato-Maeda M, Parkhill J, Malla B, Berg S, Thwaites G, Yeboah-Manu D, Bothamley G, Mei J, Wei L, Bentley S, Harris SR, Niemann S, Diel R, Aseffa A, Gao Q, Young D, Gagneux S (2013) Out-of-Africa migration and Neolithic coexpansion of Myobacterium tuberculosis with modern humans. Nat Genet 45:1176–1182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Costello K, Hodson G (2010) Exploring the roots of dehumanization: the role of animal-human similarity in promoting immigrant humanization. Group Process Intergroup Relat 13:3–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cox CR, Goldenberg JL, Pyszczynski T, Weise D (2007) Disgust, creatureliness and the accessibility of death-related thoughts. Eur J Soc Psychol 37:494–507CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Curtis V, Biran A (2001) Dirt, disgust, and disease. Perspect Biol Med 44:17–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Curtis V, Aunger R, Rabie T (2004) Evidence that disgust evolved to protect from risk of disease. Proc R Soc Lond B 271(Supplement):131e133Google Scholar
  19. Curtis V, de Barra M, Aungur R (2011) Disgust as an adaptive system for disease avoidance behaviour. Philos Trans R Soc B 366:389–401CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Das E, Bushman BJ, Bezemer MD, Kerkhof P, Vermeulen IE (2009) How terrorism news reports increase prejudice against out- groups: a terror management account. J Exp Soc Psychol 45:453–459CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Davey GCL (1992) Some characteristics of individuals with fear of spiders. Anxiety Res 4:299–314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Davey GC, McDonald AS, Hirisave U, Prabhu GG, Iwawaki S, Jim CI, Merckelbach H, de Jong PJ, Leung PW, Reimann BC (1998) A cross-cultural study of animal fears. Behav Res Ther 36:735–750CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Dunkel CS (2009) The association between thoughts of defecation and thoughts of death. Death Stud 33:356–371CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Epley N, Waytz A, Cacioppo JT (2007) On seeing human: a three-factor theory of anthropomorphism. Psychol Rev 114:864–886CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fessler D, Haley K (2006) Guarding the perimeter: the outside-inside dichotomy in disgust and bodily experience. Cogn Emot 20:3–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fessler D, Navarrete C (2003) Meat is good to taboo: dietary prescriptions as a product of the interaction of psychological mechanisms and social processes. J Cogn Cult 3:1–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fessler D, Navarrete CD (2005) The effect of age on death disgust: challenges to terror management perspectives. Evol Psychol 3:279–296Google Scholar
  28. Gailliot MT, Stillman TF, Schmeichel BJ, Maner JK, Plant EA (2008) Mortality salience increases adherence to salient norms and values. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 24:993CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Goldenberg JL, Pyszczynski T, McCoy SK, Greenberg J, Solomon S (1999) Death, sex, love, and neuroticism: why is sex such a problem? J Pers Soc Psychol 77:1173–1187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Goldenberg JL, Pyszczynski T, Greenberg J, Solomon S (2000) Fleeing the body: a terror management perspective on the problem of human corporeality. Personal Soc Psychol Rev 4:200–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Goldenberg JL, Pyszczynski T, Greenberg J, Sheldon S, Kluck B, Cornwell R (2001) I am not an animal: mortality salience, disgust, and the denial of human creatureliness. J Exp Psychol Gen 130:427–435CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Goldenberg JL, Cox CR, Pyszczynski T, Greenberg J, Solomon S (2002) Understanding human ambivalence about sex: the effects of stripping sex of meaning. J Sex Res 39:310–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Goldenberg JL, Arndt J, Hart J, Routledge C (2008) Uncovering an existential barrier to breast self-exam behavior. J Exp Soc Psychol 44:260–274CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Greenberg J, Pyszczynski T, Solomon S (1986) The causes and consequences of a need for self-esteem: a terror management theory. In: Baumeister RF (ed) Public self and private self. Springer, New York, pp 189–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Greenberg J, Pyszczynski T, Solomon S, Simon L, Breus M (1994) Role of consciousness and accessibility of death-related thoughts in mortality salience effects. J Pers Soc Psychol 67:627–637CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Greenberg J, Solomon S, Pyszczynski T (1997) Terror management theory of self-esteem and cultural worldviews: empirical assessments and conceptual refinements. Adv Exp Soc Psychol 29:61–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Greenberg J, Solomon S, Arndt J (2008) A basic but uniquely human motivation: Terror management. In: Shah JY, Gardner WL (eds) Handbook of motivation science. Guilford, New York, pp 114–134Google Scholar
  38. Haidt J, McCauley CR, Rozin P (1994) Individual differences in sensitivity to disgust: a scale sampling seven domains of disgust elicitors. Personal Individ Differ 16:701–713CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Harmon-Jones E, Simon L, Greenberg J, Pyszczynski T, Solomon S, McGregor H (1997) Terror management theory and self-esteem: evidence that increased self-esteem reduces mortality salience effects. J Pers Soc Psychol 72:24–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Harper KN, Armelagos GJ (2013) Genomics, the origins of agriculture, and our changing microbe-scape: time to revisit some old tales and tell some new ones. Am J Phys Anthropol 152:135–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Haslam N (2006) Dehumanization: an integrative review. Personal Soc Psychol Rev 10:252–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Haslam N, Loughnan S (2014) Dehumanization and infrahumanization. Annu Rev Psychol 65:399–423CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Haslam N, Kashima Y, Loughnan S, Shi J, Suitner C (2008) Subhuman, inhuman, and superhuman: contrasting humans with nonhumans in three cultures. Soc Cogn 26:248–258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Hayes J, Schimel J, Arndt J, Faucher EH (2010) A theoretical and empirical review of the death-thought accessibility concept in terror management research. Psychol Bull 136:699–739CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Heflick NA, Goldenberg JL (2014) Dehumanization: A threat and solution to terror management. In: Bain PG, Vaes J, Leyens J-P (eds) Humanness and dehumanization. Psychology Press, New York, pp 86–127Google Scholar
  46. Hirschberger G, Florian V, Mikulincer M (2005) Fear and compassion: a terror management analysis of emotional reactions to persons with disabilities. Rehabil Psychol 50:246–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Hoberg EP, Alkire NL, de Queiroz A, Jones A (2001) Out of Africa: origins of the Taenia tapeworms in humans. Proc R Soc Lond B 268:781–787CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Jones BA, Grace D, Kock R, Alonso S, Rushton J, Said MY, McKeever D, Mutua F, Young J, McDermott J, Pfeiffer DU (2013) Zoonosis emergence linked to agricultural intensification and environmental change. PNAS 110:8399–8404CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Karlsson EK, Kwiatkowski DP, Sabeti PC (2014) Natural selection and infectious disease in human populations. Nat Rev Genet 15:279–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Kelly D (2011) The nature and moral significance of disgust. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  51. Kirkpatrick LA, Navarrete CD (2006) Reports of my death anxiety have been greatly exaggerated: a critique of terror management theory from an evolutionary perspective. Psychol Inq 17:288–298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Landau MJ, Solomon S, Greenberg J, Cohen F, Pyszczynski T, Arndt J, Cook A (2004) Deliver us from evil: the effects of mortality salience and reminders of 9/11 on support for President George W. Bush. Personal Soc Psychol Bull 30:1136–1150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Leyens J-P, Rodriguez-Torres R, Rodriguez-Perez A, Gaunt R, Paladino M, Vaes J, Demoulin S (2001) Psychological essentialism and the differential attribution of uniquely human emotions to ingroups and outgroups. Eur J Soc Psychol 81:395–411CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Martens A, Greenberg J, Schimel J, Landau MJ (2004) Ageism and death: effects of mortality salience and perceived similarity to elders on reactions to elderly people. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 30:1524–1536CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Martins Y, Pliner P (2006) “Ugh! That’s disgusting!”: identification of the characteristics of foods underlying rejections based on disgust. Appetite 46:75–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Matchett G, Davey GCL (1991) A test of a disease-avoidance model of animal phobias. Behav Res Ther 29:91–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Morand S, McIntyre KM, Baylis M (2014) Domesticated animals and human infectious diseases of zoonotic origins: domestication time matters. Infect Genet Evol 24:76–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Navarrete CD (2005) Normative bias and adaptive challenges: a relational approach to coalitional psychology and a critique of terror management theory. Evol Psychol 3:297–325Google Scholar
  59. Neuberg SL, Kenrick DT, Schaller M (2011) Human threat management systems: self-protection and disease avoidance. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 35:1042–1051CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Oaten M, Stevensen RJ, Case TI (2011) Disease avoidance as a functional basis for stigmatization. Philos Trans R Soc B 366:3433–3452CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Olatunji BO, Haidt J, McKay D, David B (2008) Core, animal reminder, and contamination disgust: three kinds of disgust with distinct personality, behavioral, physiological, and clinical correlates. J Res Pers 42:1243–1259CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Olatunji BO, Moretz M, McKay D, Bjorklund F, de Jong P, Haidt J, Hursti TJ, Imada S, Koller S, Mancini F, Page AC, Schienle A (2009) Confirming the three-factor structure of the disgust scale—revised in eight countries. J Cross Cult Psychol 40:234–255Google Scholar
  63. Olatunji BO, Ebesutani C, Haidt J, Sawchuk CN (2014) Specificity of disgust domains in the prediction of contamination anxiety and avoidance: a multimodal examination. Behav Ther 45:469–481CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Prokop P, Fančovičová J (2011) The effect of owning animals on perceived vulnerability to, and avoidance of, parasitic diseases in humans. J Individ Differ 32:129–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Prokop P, Fančovičová J, Fedor P (2010) Health is associated with antiparasite behavior and fear of disease-relevant animals in humans. Ecol Psychol 22:222–237CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Rosenblatt A, Greenberg J, Solomon S, Pyszczynski T, Lyon D (1989) Evidence for terror management theory: I. The effects of mortality salience on reactions to those who violate or uphold cultural values. J Pers Soc Psychol 57:681–690CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Routledge C, Ostafin B, Juhl J, Sedikides C, Cathey C, Liao J (2010) Adjusting to death: the effects of mortality salience and self-esteem on psychological well-being, growth motivation, and maladaptive behavior. J Pers Soc Psychol 99:897–916CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Rozin P (2008) Hedonic “adaptation”: specific habituation to disgust/death elicitors as a result of dissecting a cadaver. Judgm Decis Mak 3:191–194Google Scholar
  69. Rozin P, Fallon AE (1987) A perspective on disgust. Psychol Rev 94:23–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Rozin P, Millman L, Nemeroff C (1986) Operation of the laws of sympathetic magic in disgust and other domains. J Pers Soc Psychol 50:703–712CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Rozin P, Nemeroff C, Horowitz M, Gordon B, Voet W (1995) The borders of the self: contamination sensitivity and potency of the body apertures and other body parts. J Res Pers 29:318–340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Rozin P, Haidt J, McCauley C (2000) Disgust. In: Lewis M, Haviland-Jones J (eds) Handbook of emotions, 2nd edn. Guilford Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  73. Rozin P, Haidt J, McCauley CR (2008) Disgust. In: Lewis M, Haviland J, Barrett LF (eds) Handbook of emotions, 3rd edn. Guilford Press, New York, pp 757–776Google Scholar
  74. Russell PS, Giner-Sorolla R (2013) Bodily-moral disgust: what it is, how it is different from anger and why it is an unreasoned emotion. Psychol Bull 139:328–351CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Schaller M (2006) Parasites, behavioral defenses, and the social psychological mechanisms through which cultures are evoked. Psychol Inq 17:96–101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Schaller M, Murray DR (2008) Pathogens, personality, and culture: disease prevalence predicts worldwide variability in sociosexuality, extraversion, and openness to experience. J Pers Soc Psychol 95:212–221CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Schaller M, Park JH (2011) The behavioral immune system (and why it matters). Curr Dir Psychol Sci 20:99–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Schmeichel BJ, Martens A (2005) Self-affirmation and mortality salience: affirming values reduces worldview defense and death-thought accessibility. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 31:658CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Schmeichel B, Gaillot MT, Filardo E, McGregor I, Gitter S, Baumeister R (2009) Terror management theory and self-esteem revisited: the roles of implicit self-esteem in mortality salience effects. J Pers Soc Psychol 96:1077–1087CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Serpell J (1996) In the company of animals, 2nd edn. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  81. Smits JAJ, Telch MJ, Randall PK (2002) An examination of the decline in fear and disgust during exposure-based treatment. Behav Res Ther 40:1243–1253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Solomon S, Greenberg J, Pyszczynski T (1991) A terror management theory of social behavior: the psychological functions of self-esteem and cultural worldviews. In: Zanna MP (ed) Advances in experimental social psychology, vol 24. Academic Press, San Diego, pp 91–159Google Scholar
  83. Solomon S, Greenberg J, Pyszczynski T (2004) The cultural animal: Twenty years of terror management theory and research. In: Greenberg J, Koole SL, Pyszczynski T (eds) Handbook of experimental existential psychology. Guilford, New York, pp 13–34Google Scholar
  84. Strohminger N (2014) Disgust talked about. Philos Compass 9:478–493CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Tybur JM, Griskevicius V, Lieberman D (2009) Microbes, mating, and morality: individual differences in three functional domains of disgust. Personal Process Individ Differ 97:103–122Google Scholar
  86. Tybur JM, Lieberman D, Kurzban R, DeScioli P (2013) Disgust: evolved function and structure. Psychol Rev 120:65–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Ware J, Jain K, Burgess I, Davey GCL (1994) Disease-avoidance model: factor analysis of common animals fears. Behav Res Ther 32:57–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Webb K, Davey GCL (1992) Disgust sensitivity and fear of animals: effect of exposure to violent or revulsive material. Anxiety Stress Coping 5:329–335CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Weiss RA (2001) Animal origins of human infectious disease, The Leeuwenhoek Lecture. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B 356:957–977CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Wolfe ND, Dunavan CP, Diamond J (2007) Origins of major human infectious diseases. Nature 447:279–283CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Woolhouse MEJ, Gowtage-Sequeria S (2005) Host range and emerging and reemerging pathogens. Emerg Infect Dis 11:1842–1847CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CopenhagenDenmark

Personalised recommendations