Disgust in its simplest form is what you feel when you smell stale food or foul odors. Disgust has served a primitive function to help us stay away from food, plants and waste that is poisonous or in other ways not good for us. In a more advanced social form, disgust and it’s cousin contempt helps us to signal to others that they have violated the groups basic needs and values. Disgust and contempt in society can arise against groups or individuals that are believed to violate important norms. Disgust and contempt in smaller groups, as within a couple, often occur if the partner ceases to pay attention to common values and standards.
Disgust is often experienced as wanting to get rid of something or someone. The facial expression looks as if the person is experiencing a foul smell. In its most intense form, the experience of disgust is nausea, and in a milder sense it is an experience of wanting to turn away and show displeasure.
The most basic need in disgust and contempt is to protect oneself from illness and things that are dangerous to oneself or the herd. In a more advanced sense, the need is to protect oneself from something that threatens one’s values, or against anything that threatens the group.
Disgust can also be quite problematic. People who have experienced abuse, bullying or neglect may experience disgust towards themselves, sometimes to the extent that they harm themselves. Others can turn this disgust or attempt outwards and are then constantly looking for enemies or threats to the group or community. In such cases, the problem is often one of a combination of difficult emotions.