Disgust Theory Through the Lens of Psychiatric Medicine

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The elicitors of disgust are heterogeneous, which makes attributing one function to disgust challenging. Theorists have proposed that disgust solves multiple adaptive problems and comprises multiple functional domains. However, theories conflict with regard to what the domains are and how they should be delineated. In this article, we examine clinical evidence of aberrant disgust symptoms in the contamination subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder, blood-injury-injection phobia, and posttraumatic stress disorder to adjudicate between two prevailing theories of disgust. We argue that the pattern of disgust sensitivities in these psychiatric disorders sheds new light on the domain structure of disgust. Specifically, the supported domain structure of disgust is likely similar to an adaptationist model of disgust, with more subdivisions of the domain of pathogen disgust. We discuss the implications of this approach for the prevention and treatment of psychiatric disorders relevant to disgust.