The Evolution of Disgust: From Oral to Moral

January 4, 2012 - January 7, 2012
ZiF Center for Interdisciplinary Research, Universität Bielefeld


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Long overlooked, disgust has recently received increasing attention from a wide variety of disciplines, indicating that it plays an important role in many areas where its influence had not previously been considered, such as various forms of psychopathology, morality, intergroup emotions, and socio-political concerns. Disgust studies also promise to illuminate some general questions in emotion theory, such as what constitutes a ‘basic emotion’, and the relationship between basic emotions and more complex human emotions. Central to much recent discussion of disgust are questions about its evolution. The role of disgust in phobias is often explained in terms of ‘evolutionary preparedness’ to develop emotional responses to recurrent environmental threats (such as spiders). The role of disgust in moral and social judgments is often explained in terms of the evolutionary benefits that it conferred in historical environments, for example, avoiding incest, punishing or expelling social parasites, and protecting in-group members from exposure to novel pathogens carried by out-group members. Disgust in these more complex domains is often seen as emerging by Darwinian and cultural evolution from its simpler roots in parasite and pathogen avoidance. This conference will explore a wide variety of research on disgust, seen through the lens of evolution, and with an eye towards its theoretical and practical implications for emotion theory, psychiatry, morality and intergroup relations.

Understanding disgust will require the perspectives of researchers in many disciplines, from many cultures. Participants in the workshop have already expressed their interest in developing an international network of disgust researchers and plan to conduct joint cross-cultural studies on disgust. The workshop will help to facilitate such interactions. A number of participants have already suggested the organization of additional, follow-up conferences funded and located in their home countries. The workshop thereby has the potential to serve as both an end in itself, and as the beginning of larger collaboration.

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January 4, 2012, 5:00am CET

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