Jump to content

The Healthy Side of Disgust

Nurses Article   (787 Views 6 Replies 800 Words)
by J.Adderton J.Adderton, MSN (Member) Writer Verified

J.Adderton has 20 years experience as a MSN .

7 Followers; 54 Articles; 27,235 Visitors; 263 Posts

advertisement

Disgust is strong ally in protecting us from infection and disease. It also shapes how we view and react to other people.

The Healthy Side of Disgust

Roaches in food. Frothy odorous sputum. Rotten tuna salad. It is impossible to completely dodge the uncomfortable squirm of disgust.  I remember learning all about the 6 basic emotions in elementary school.  The teacher would hold up a facial expression and everyone would associate the image with anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, or surprise.  Of course, what I considered disgusting at the age of 5 is quite different than the middle-aged adult I am now.  Recently, I listened to a news radio segment discussing the science of disgust.  Who knew my emotional reaction to stepping in a steamy pile of dog poo is actual science?  I had to know more.

What is Disgust Really?

Disgust is a strong emotional response to things we find repulsive.  And by repulsive, I mean gross, ghastly and sickening.  Disgust can be triggered by smells, sights or any of the senses. Triggers can also be related to a moral violation, social wrongdoing or the value system of a group.  What we consider as disgusting is shaped by the culture and environment we grew up in.  So, how do you know if it is disgust or dislike?  Something disgusting gets your full attention and your experience a knee jerk reaction to move away.

Some Things Are Universally Disgusting

In the late 1990’s, Dr. Val Curtis, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), surveyed people from different countries on things that were disgusting to them.  Regardless of geographic location, people universally found these things disgusting:

  • Bodily secretions- feces, vomit, spit, blood, pus, sexual fluids
  • Body parts- wounds, dead bodies, nail clippings
  • Rotten food- especially meat and fish
  • Certain creatures- lice, flies, maggots, worms, lice

If you think about it, isn’t our facial expression to disgust universal too?  You know, the once with a furrowed brow, distorted face and lips pulled tight.

The 6 Categories of Disgust

Dr. Curtis continued her research and recently studied 2,500 participants levels of disgust when exposed to 70 different gross and ick inspired scenarios.  Findings revealed six categories of disgust: poor hygiene, disease carrying animals, certain sexual behaviors, atypical appearance and behaviors, sores/wounds, visible signs of infection and rotting food.

Disgust Helps us Avoid Disease

Curtis concluded it is not by coincidence the identified disgust categories are all sources of illness, infection and disease.  I wish I had a penny for every time my mother made me shower immediately after swimming in the public pool.  “It’s full of pee and ewww so disgusting!” she would say while dousing me with shampoo.  Young children generally don’t have a strong sense of disgust.  They are basically dependent on their parents’ feelings and responses to triggers.  As we age and gain life experience, our sense and response to disgust broadens.

A Teacher of Manners?

The benefits of disgust beyond the prevention of illness.  Children learn to not pick their nose or chew with their mouth open because someone told them those habits are disgusting. Disgust continues to teach manners and politeness on into adulthood.

Disgust and Our Sense of Morality

Research has observed a link between a person’s moral judgement and disgust.  For example, after completing a continuing education course on violence and elder abuse, a common emotion is deep disgust.  Feelings of disgust invoke a sense of moral outrage in people.  Or sense of disgust aids in the determination of what is morally right and wrong and sometimes acts as a call to action.

Potential Social Consequences and Political Affiliations

We are often disgusted by other people because of intolerance, prejudice and negative attitudes. When this happens, it’s a missed opportunity for new relationships and experiences.  Nurses often use empathy to counter feelings of disgust towards another person. By empathizing with a patient diagnosed with gangrene, we are less sensitive to feelings of disgust and try to help.

Pizarro, A Cornell University professor, studied the variable of disgust sensitivity across three studies.  He found people who reporting feeling easily disgusted were more likely to identify as politically conservative.  Researchers have also found when disgusted, people become more stringent in socio moral judgements.

Disgust is strong ally in protecting us from infection and disease.  It also shapes how we view and react to other people. What part does disgust play in your nursing practice?

The Science Behind Disgust

Taking Control of Disgust

The Health Benefits of Disgust

Val Curtis- London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

J. Adderton, RN MSN has been a nurse for over 20 years. Her nursing career spans a variety of settings and specialty. If you enjoyed this article, visit her Allnurses blog for past articles.

7 Followers; 54 Articles; 27,235 Visitors; 263 Posts

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Davey Do has 35 years experience and specializes in Psych, CD, HH, Admin, LTC, OR, ER, Med Surge.

14 Followers; 1 Article; 75,365 Visitors; 6,081 Posts

I nominate you for the title of the coolest writer, J.Adderton, because you choose cool subjects to write about like disgust and roadkill.

I believe one of my chores as a child, dragging dead animals out of the yard that the dogs had drug in, helped me to develop a strong stomach so that I can  now, as a nurse, clean up poop and puke and eat a peanut butter &  jelly sandwich at the same time!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

VivaLasViejas has 20 years experience as a ASN, RN and specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych.

8 Followers; 142 Articles; 247,946 Visitors; 9,625 Posts

It's so funny, when my kids were little I couldn't clean up their vomit. My poor husband had to deal with it. I was so easily grossed out that I'd puke if someone else in the house did, including the cats. So how on earth did I become a nurse?

I still don't know how it came to be, but once I was in nursing school I developed a cast-iron stomach. Emesis doesn't bother me. Blood, poop, gore---I can eat a hot dog as I describe them in detail. The only things that disgust me now are oral care and feet, and I never adjusted to dealing with them. I'd ten times rather place a Foley in a 500-lb. patient than scrub someone's  dentures. Ick.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

J.Adderton has 20 years experience as a MSN.

7 Followers; 54 Articles; 27,235 Visitors; 263 Posts

4 minutes ago, VivaLasViejas said:

 Emesis doesn't bother me. Blood, poop, gore---I can eat a hot dog as I describe them in detail. The only things that disgust me now are oral care and feet, and I never adjusted to dealing with them.

 

Too funny!  I don't know why but.... drainage in certain collection systems- wound vac, wall suction, drains ect are rough for me. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

VivaLasViejas has 20 years experience as a ASN, RN and specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych.

8 Followers; 142 Articles; 247,946 Visitors; 9,625 Posts

18 hours ago, J.Adderton said:

Too funny!  I don't know why but.... drainage in certain collection systems- wound vac, wall suction, drains ect are rough for me. 

We all have our nursing Kryptonite, to be sure. With my son who's also an RN, it's sputum and other mucus-y secretions. He retches just THINKING about it. Poor guy had to take care of a gentleman with a trach when he was in nursing school and he tried so hard to be professional about it, but when the man hawked up some green stuff Ben almost threw up on him. He couldn't get out of there fast enough!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

catladyx8 has 38 years experience and specializes in Med-Surg; Geriatrics, Faith Community Nursing.

525 Visitors; 29 Posts

I worked in nursing jobs where the patients came to me with all bits and pieces put back together!  I could never have survived working in the ER.  Of course, wound care was something completely different and I could manage that.  I could get through a meal while talking about the most disgusting bedsore I packed.  My other issue is the same as many have mentioned here...mucus.  Patients with really loose coughs make me gag!!!  I can get through suctioning okay, but listening to someone try to cough up a lung is quite difficult for me.  I turn my head and support the patient but my insides are wretching!!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

2,864 Visitors; 519 Posts

On 6/7/2019 at 4:03 AM, VivaLasViejas said:

It's so funny, when my kids were little I couldn't clean up their vomit. My poor husband had to deal with it. I was so easily grossed out that I'd puke if someone else in the house did, including the cats. So how on earth did I become a nurse?

I still don't know how it came to be, but once I was in nursing school I developed a cast-iron stomach. Emesis doesn't bother me. Blood, poop, gore---I can eat a hot dog as I describe them in detail. The only things that disgust me now are oral care and feet, and I never adjusted to dealing with them. I'd ten times rather place a Foley in a 500-lb. patient than scrub someone's  dentures. Ick.

 

OMG This! I can pack a wound down to the hip bone but oral care, oh hell no! Don't know why but I could never be a dental tech, literally ever!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Recently Browsing 0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×