Saturday, February 04, 2012


In her new book “That’s Disgusting; Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion”, psychologist Rachel Herz writes that DISGUST is one of “the six basic human emotions”. In fact, DISGUST itself has become a hot topic among neuroscientists and behaviorologists alike. James Gorman, in a recent Science Times article, gives a handy overview of the "disgustologists", psychologists, neurologists and anthropologists who are finding implications moral, evolutional, and emotional in the phenomenon of DISGUST per se.
Apparently it affects us at levels both amygdalar and cerebral, hormonal and aesthetic, from our diet to our choice of mate and/or political affiliation. Author Hertz writes that DISGUST is a “cognitive emotion”— i.e., though universally experienced, it is not innate but learned, and culturally conditioned. That is, we’re not all disgusted by the same things. Still, we know DISGUST when we see it.
It is the signature expression of Roman water spouts and Medieval gargoyles; in 1870 Charles Darwin explored the expression of DISGUST—why it is so universally recognized, what that may mean to us and say about us—in “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.”  

Drawing upon his observations of his own children, and citing the documentary photographs of Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne he described the face of DISGUST as like that when “one expels some horrible-tasting substance from the mouth.” Furthermore, "...the protrusion of the tongue in letting a nasty object fall out of the mouth, may explain how it is that lolling out the tongue universally serves as a sign of contempt and hatred [pg. 274]." 

The Facial Action Coding System [FACS] describes the “essential actions of one kind of DISGUST” more succinctly. Disgust consists of, in the upper face, AU9 [a wrinkled nose]… AU 4 [eyebrows pulled down]… AU 7 [lower eyelid is tensed]… AU 6+AU7 [eye opening narrowed]… AU 41 [upper eyelids relaxed]… AND, in the lower face, AU 26 [mouth open]… AU10+15 [upper lip drawn up, lip corners depressed]… A turn of the head is consistent with avoiding something distasteful.

Thirty-five years ago, psychologist and facial micro-expression expert, Dr. Paul Ekman was a pioneer in the study of facial expression. Identifying about three thousand facial muscle movements, individually and in combination, Ekman compiled 500 pages of notes into a catalog of human emotion, now widely used by neuropsychologists, police forensic departments and cgi animators. 
Dr. Ekman himself has entered popular culture as the model for Dr. Cal Lightman (played by actor Tim Roth) of the Fox TV series “Lie to Me”. Says Ekman: "DISGUST expressions are often displayed as a commentary on many other events and people that generate adverse reactions, but have nothing to do with the primal origin of DISGUST as a rejection of possible foodstuffs..."

How do YOU read these facial expressions?
Candidate Newt Gingrich, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Candidates Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum,  pictured here with Random Voter
Let's look for them this election year.