Spiritual Pollution, Part 2: Brownie poop, cockroaches, and the irrationality of disgust

The first thing you need to learn about the psychology of disgust (because this will be important when we start talking about people) is its irrationality.

The world expert on the psychology of disgust, contamination, and contagion is Paul Rozin (to explore start with: Rozin, P., Haidt, J., & McCauley, C.R. (1993). Disgust. In M. Lewis and J. Haviland (Eds.), Handbook of Emotions, pp. 575-594. New York: Guilford.) Rozin's research is so fun, interesting, and important it makes me proud to be a psychologist.

I first discovered Rozin's work a few years ago when I walked into a Plenary Session of his at the annual American Psychological Conference. He gave example after example of how simple experiments in his lab illustrate the illogical nature of disgust.

For example, Rozin and his co-investigators would drop a cockroach into a glass of apple juice. They then stir it around and then remove the cockroach from the juice. Then they present the juice to the subject. Will they drink it?

Most don't. But that is just when things start to get interesting. Next, they filter the juice, boil it, and filter it again. They then re-present the juice. Will the subject drink it now?

Most still refuse. And that is the point. Intellectually, the subject knows that that filtered and boiled juice is now more clean than most tap water. It is irrational to continue to refuse. But yet we do.

In another experiment, Rozin bakes brownies in the shape of dog poop. Will subjects eat it? Again, most refuse. And they know this is an irrational response. It's just a brownie.

The point we take away from Rozin's research is this: Once something is appraised as contaminated or polluted, emotions take over. Reason goes out the window.

Why is this important? Because, as we'll see in coming posts, people are often appraised as "disgusting" or as a source of "contamination." And that is a problem in that conversations about these persons or contact with them generates strong and irrational emotions. Think about the Nazi reactions toward the Jew, the Southerner's reaction to the Negro, or the current conversations in the Church about homosexuality. Most of these reactions were or are intensely emotional and irrational. How can you discuss issues rationally when people are being motivated by disgust psychology? How can these people ever hope to love or serve the people they viscerally loathe?

I hope it is now obvious that Christians are going to need to monitor and manage their disgust appraisals if they are going to claim to be ministers of love and reconciliation in this world.

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2 thoughts on “Spiritual Pollution, Part 2: Brownie poop, cockroaches, and the irrationality of disgust”

  1. Although your point is certainly well taken, I would take issue with your example of "the Southerner's reaction to the Negro". I am a Southerner, and like most, do not have a disgust-type reaction to African-Americans.

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