Whether we realize it or not, most of us have a knee-jerk reaction when we see someone with a facial disfigurement, such as psoriasis, a cleft lip, or a birthmark. We may sit away from them on the bus, hesitate to shake their hand, or even give a barely masked look of revulsion. A new study suggests these disgust reactions stem from an ancient disease-avoidance system that normally prevents us from catching illnesses. Essentially, we treat facial disfigurements like infectious diseases.
Psychologists have recently begun to uncover where disgust comes from, with some researchers believing the emotion is similar to fear. “Fear evolved to keep you away from large animals that want to eat you from the outside,” says Valerie Curtis, a behavioral scientist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who wasn’t involved in the study.
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