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Miller, S.B. (1993). Disgust Reactions—Their Determinants and Manifestations in Treatment. Contemp. Psychoanal., 29:711-734.

(1993). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 29:711-734

Disgust Reactions—Their Determinants and Manifestations in Treatment

Susan B. Miller, Ph.D.

DISGUST IS AMONG THE least studied of the basic emotions. This inattention may follow from something threatening about the disgust emotion. Unlike shame, another once-neglected emotion, disgust seldom causes deep pain, so qualities other than painfulness must account for its neglect. The essence of disgust is rejection of contact and the field has responded to the emotion by rejecting contact. This behavior makes sense to disgust researchers in that a basic rule of the emotion is the rule of contamination (Rozin & Fallon, 1987). Contact with the disgusting makes one disgusting. To study disgust is to risk contamination; jokes about his or her unwholesome interests soon greet the disgust researcher. One of the initial reviewers of this paper commented, "I suppose a symposium on disgust would turn me on as much as Dahlberg's book on feces. Something like approaching the unapproachable."

Disgust is unique among the emotions in its close linkage with a set of stimuli that are not interpersonal. Most of these non-human stimuli are food substances, or in some instances substances experienced by touch (e.g., slimy things). Disgust stands apart from many other emotions, which seem fundamentally interpersonal in their design. Shame and guilt are examples of profoundly interpersonal emotions that cannot be imagined apart from interpersonal life. Other emotions occupy a third position; they are responses to stimuli that can be human or non-human. Surprise is an example, as are joy and anger.

Disgust's meaning as a bad-food response is so strong for most people that they barely conceive of it outside that context.

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