Thursday, December 30, 2021


 The NY Times has a story about the emotion of disgust, focusing on the work of psychologists Paul Rozin and (his student) Jonathan Haidt.  It focuses on some of the ways that biological/psychological notions of disgust can be carried over to disapproval of more political kinds (and of the kinds of transactions that some people disapprove of involving what economists have started to call repugnance).

Here's the Times' story:

How Disgust Explains Everything. For psychologists who study it, disgust is one of the primal emotions that define — and explain — humanity.  By Molly Young

"Haidt continued to zero in on the political uses of the word, noticing that Americans often listed as “disgusting” such things as racism, brutality, hypocrisy and ambulance-chasing lawyers. “Liberals say that conservatives are disgusting. Conservatives say that welfare cheaters are disgusting,” he wrote in a paper with Rozin and two others in 1997.* What was that about? Was the use of “disgust” for such a wide range of activities simply a metaphoric quirk of the English language? Did the pundits who sat around all day expressing disgust on TV have to keep a vomiting bucket next to their desks, or were they just being linguistically imprecise?

"Neither, exactly. When Haidt and Rozin looked at other languages, they found that many contained words with a compound meaning equivalent to “disgust” — single words that could be applied to both legislation and diarrhea. German had ekel. Japanese had ken’o. Bengali had ghenna. Hebrew had go-al. When an Israeli woman was asked what situations made her feel go-al, she cited “a horrible accident and you see body parts all over the place” and a person “who just picked his nose and ate it later.” But she also said that “If you really dislike a politician, you would use the word go-al.”


"These two types of human — which broadly map onto “liberal” and “conservative,” or “relatively disgust-insensitive” and “relatively disgust-sensitive” — live in separate moral matrices. If it seems bizarre that disgust sensitivity and politics should be so closely correlated, it’s important to remember that disgust sensitivity is really measuring our feelings about purity and pollution. And these, in turn, contribute to our construction of moral systems, and it is our moral systems that guide our political orientations."


*Haidt, J., Rozin, P., McCauley, C., & Imada, S. (1997). Body, psyche, and culture: The relationship of disgust to morality. Psychology and Developing Societies, 9, 107-131. View article at: Journal webpage, Ungated version 

No comments: