The conversations of life

Gross! Why we find some things disgusting, according to science


If you’ve ever felt creeped out by bad BO or mouldy bread, it turns out there’s a very good reason why. UK researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (love the name) have discovered we’ve actually evolved to find certain things disgusting to protect the body from potential disease.

They had 2,500 participants rank a range of scenarios on a scale rating from “no disgust” to “extreme disgust” including:

  • Imagining a hairless old cat rubbing up against one’s leg;
  • Stepping on a slug in bare feet (just no);
  • Shaking hands with someone with “scabby fingers” (double no); and
  • My favourite – finding out a friend eats roadkill (what the?)

Men more likely to take risks

It found there were six common types of triggers for disgust: poor hygiene, disease-carrying animals or insects, risky sexual behaviour, skin conditions such as lesions or boils, rotting food, and deformities or atypical-looking objects.

Infectious diseases unsurprisingly came out on top since these could potentially make us sick.

Women also rated every scenario as more disgusting than men – apparently because men are more willing to take part in risky behaviour (like eating that suspicious-smelling curry out of the fridge).

Interestingly, your attitude to what you find disgusting can change – for example, eating insects used to be considered revolting but is now considered a real food source.

That said, I’m not sure stepping on a slug will ever not be disgusting.

With a background in nursing, Annie has spent over 20 years working in the health industry, including the coordination of medical support for international TV productions and major stadium events, plus education campaigns with a number of national health organisations. In recent years, she has also taken time out of the workforce to be a full-time carer, giving her first-hand experience of the challenges and rewards of this role.

Leave A Reply