And so, she argues, evolved manners and social behavior.
“With disgust, you start with microbes, go on to manners and then on to morality,” she says. “It’s an emotion that teaches you how to behave. It helps build the moral framework of society.”
It is this all-encompassing reach, according to Curtis, that makes disgust so fascinating — and that has brought it in from the cold as far as serious academic research is concerned.
While 10 years ago, there were probably fewer than a handful of research papers on disgust or revulsion published in scientific journals, now there is a vast scientific literature and many books dedicated to picking them apart.
“It’s actually now become a bit of a plaything of scientists,” Curtis says.
In the lab, where scientists seek to observe and analyze causes and effects of human emotions, it is difficult and dangerous to generate real fear, and nigh on impossible to induce genuine love, but disgust is far easier to create, she adds.
“Disgust is fascinating because it’s a model emotion,” she said. “It tells us a lot about how all the emotions work.”