You might want to pay attention to those bad, queasy feelings. New research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Feb. 15, suggests that disgust could be the body’s way of helping humans avoid infection.
“We found that people with higher levels of disgust had lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers that were indicative of having bacterial or viral infections,” said Aaron Blackwell, a Washington State University associate professor of anthropology and co-author on the paper. “While the study shows that disgust functions to protect against infection, it also showed it varies across different environments, based on how easily people can avoid certain things.”
This study supports the hypothesis that disgust is an evolved human emotion that functions as a disease-avoidance mechanism, helping humans to reduce their exposure to pathogens. The findings also demonstrate that the human disgust response is calibrated to the local costs and benefits of avoidance and infection.