Is Disgust Uniquely Human?

Case, T. I. (Macquarie University), Stevenson, R. J. (Macquarie University), Byrne, R. W. (University of St. Andrews, UK), Hobaiter, C. (University of St. Andrews, UK)

Disgust has long been described as a powerful and uniquely human social emotion that expands from its roots in distaste to encompass, through culture, a wide range of elicitors (e.g., faeces) and abstract social phenomena (e.g., moral violations) (e.g., Rozin, 2015). In contrast, an evolved disease avoidance account of disgust assumes that there is continuity between the emotion of disgust in humans and animals. However, beyond the case of avoiding stimuli that taste bad, there has been little exploration of the existence of disgust elicitors in animals. A survey of aversions, contamination reactions, and signs of disgust in nonhuman great apes was collected from a sizeable sample (N = 74) of the specialised population of great ape researchers, fieldworkers, and keepers. Overall, the results suggest that great apes share with humans an aversion to a restricted range of core pathogen sources, which extends beyond distaste to resemble human disgust. However, in nonhuman great apes, this aversion is muted. Implications for the conceptualisation of disgust are discussed and a novel account of the emergence of increased disgust sensitivity in humans is presented.

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Emotion and Individual Differences