Some Theoretical Comments

Darwin's (1872) views on the role of emotion were considered briefly in Chapter 3. We noted that although Darwin considered many aspects of emotion to be evolutionarily "vestigial", he drew attention to the importance of the facial expression of emotions and how these were apparent in different cultures. He noted too that cultural variation also occurred; in the case of disgust, he recorded numerous instances in his diaries of The Voyage of The Beagle (1839/1988) of cultural practices that evoked disgust in himself but meant something very different in the culture he was visiting. For example, he tells the following story of an incident that occurred during one of the many opportunities that he took during the years of the voyage to explore South America on horseback, and during which he sometimes received the hospitality of the local inhabitants. On one such occasion he noted his feeling of disgust towards something intended as a compliment:

One of the greatest inconveniences . . . is the quantity you are obliged to eat. Time after time they pile heaps of meat on your plate; having [eaten] a great deal too much . . . a charming Signorita will perhaps present you with a choice piece from her own plate with her own fork; this you must eat, let the consequence be what it may, for it is high compliment. Oh the difficulty of smiling sweet thanks, with the horrid and vast mouthful in view! (1988, p. 157)

Darwin emphasised that disgust related to "something offensive to the taste" and he thereby started a tradition in the analysis of disgust that emphasised the aspect of it being a reaction to bad taste. As we noted above, Freud (1910) proposed a specific variant on this proposal in which he emphasised the role of disgust in the child's overcoming coprophilic tendencies at about 2 or so years of age. Subsequent cross-cultural work has shown that faeces are almost invariably the first objects to which the disgust reaction develops (Rozin & Fallon, 1987), although there is some minor variation; for example, Inuit will eat the gut contents of herbivorous mammals. There does, however, appear to be universal rejection of the gut contents of carnivores.

The traditions of Darwin and Freud were continued in Angyal's (1941) classic paper: "The nucleus of the disgust reaction . . . is the oral incorporation of certain substances" (p. 394). Angyal again emphasised disgust as a reaction to foodstuffs, with animal-derived meat products being considered one of the main categories of disgust-related objects. Thus, even within the narrow range of acceptable meats within a culture, many of the processes for the presentation of meat are concerned with disguising the fact that meat is part of a dead animal.

As noted above, Tomkins (1963) argued that disgust as such should be distinguished from two sense-based reactions: that of distaste which is the reaction to bad tastes, and dissmell which is the reaction to bad smells. Although we have argued against his proposal that all of these reactions are disgust based, Tomkins made an important early contribution in his emphasis on cognitive factors in disgust and in other emotional responses. His analysis of disgust had a considerable impact on the work of Rozin and colleagues (e.g., Rozin & Fallon, 1987; Rozin et al., 1999), who have provided the fullest analyses of disgust to date.

One of the important contributions that Rozin and his colleagues have made is an emphasis not only on the food-based aspects of disgust, but also on its underexplored role in the transmission of cultural values. In relation to food, Rozin et al. (1993) note that all cultures have prohibitions about particular foods, whether it be particular animals or parts of animals. They have emphasised that ideas of contamination or disease often form important aspects of these prohibitions; later in the chapter we will examine the importance of contamination reactions in obsessional disorders. On the basis of their considerations, Rozin et al. (1993) offer a broader conception of disgust in their proposal: "Anything that reminds us that we are animals elicits disgust" (p. 584). This conception therefore includes the earlier proposals about food and about faeces, but, in addition, provides a more interesting point from which to examine the role of disgust in emotional disorders as well as in the more obvious examples of eating disorders. Rozin et al. note, for example, that the one body product that does not elicit disgust is tears, because tears are seen as uniquely human. (Although crying may be prohibited for men in Western culture, it is the act of crying rather than the tear itself that is treated with disgust.)

Rozin et al. (1993) identified four key components of disgust. First, there is a behavioural component in which there is an attempt to distance oneself from the object, event, or situation. Second, there is a characteristic physiology, which includes a combination of nausea, increased galvanic skin response, bradycardia, and increased salivation. Third, there are expressive features that centre in particular around the face and the nose, and which may reflect an attempt both to exclude obnoxious smells from entering the nose and to eliminate obnoxious material from the mouth. Fourth, there are characteristic qualia which relate to the other components and which centre around feelings of revulsion. The components identified by Rozin and colleagues map well on to the response components of the model that we presented in Chapter 5, the main difference being the absence of the interpretive-appraisal processes that we include in order to explain the initial occurrence of emotions such as disgust. Nevertheless, despite this difference, Rozin and his colleagues have contributed substantially to our understanding of disgust in relation to both food and animal products and in relation to cultural norms and values. As Rozin et al. (1993) themselves state: "Our analysis suggests a cultural evolution of disgust that brings it to the heart of what it means to be human" (p. 590).

In the cognitive theory presented by Oatley and Johnson-Laird (1987) disgust was also given a central role as one of their five basic emotions (see Chapter 3). The core of the theory is that emotions occur primarily at junctures in goals and plans; the important juncture for disgust being a "gustatory goal violated" that leads the individual to reject the substance or withdraw. In addition, the infant emotion is seen to develop into adult forms as shown in loathing and distaste. Although Oatley and Johnson-Laird (1987) say little further about disgust, Johnson-Laird and Oatley (1989) in their semantic analysis of emotion terms, show how a number of complex emotions such as guilt, shame, contempt, and loathing are derived from the basic emotion of disgust. In his later book Oatley (1992) further emphasised the interpersonal functions of disgust and disgust-based emotions. Oatley stated that the complex emotions of hatred, loathing, and contempt have the interpersonal function of withdrawing from other people and of disengaging from joint or mutual plans. However, we must observe that we do not share Oatley and Johnson-Laird's view that the complex emotions of hatred and contempt are solely disgust-based emotions, and indeed, in our own personal semantics we would derive hatred primarily from anger (see Chapter 8). However, because Oatley and Johnson-Laird theorised that complex emotions could be derived from only one basic emotion, it is possible that they have been overly restricted by this aspect of their theory; thus, emotions such as contempt and loathing may best be derived from a combination of disgust and anger, and instead of having to argue that embarrassment has two or more different forms derived from different basic emotions, it would seem more parsimonious to derive embarrassment from a combination of primarily fear and disgust (especially as self-disgust or shame). Keith Oatley himself has commented that "the basis for Oatley and Johnson-Laird's treatment of disgust and contempt is less satisfactory than for happiness, sadness, anger, and fear" (1992, p. 60) so perhaps we should not rub their noses in it any further!

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